BILL PRESS: Donald Trump hearts strong-men

Kevin Lamarque—Reuters
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) shakes hands with U.S President Donald Trump as they make statements to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington

If, indeed, we are known by the company we keep, you can learn two things about Donald Trump by the company he’s been keeping at the White House. One, he doesn’t care about human rights. Two, Donald Trump hearts strongmen.How times have changed. The visit of a foreign leader to the White House used to be an occasion of national pride. With all the fanfare a democracy could muster, the president would welcome the Queen of England, the president of France, the prime minister of Israel and others: who were our strategic partners but, more importantly, who shared our values.Today, Donald Trump will roll out the red carpet for anybody who shows up. They don’t have to agree with us on policy. They don’t even have to share our values. Any thug is welcome, as long as he’s willing to say nice things about Donald Trump. And, guaranteed: Trump, in turn, will say nice things about him.Just last week, for example, before jetting off to Saudi Arabia, Trump welcomed Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to the White House, shortly after congratulating him for his “legendary triumph” in passing a referendum that destroyed any vestige of democracy left in Turkey. Since last July’s failed coup attempt, Erdogan has purged more than 100,000 civil servants, judges, teachers, soldiers and police officers — and jailed more journalists than any other country. True to form, no sooner had he left the Oval Office than Erdogan’s goons beat up protestors in the streets of Washington.Erdogan’s visit came just a couple of days after Trump yukked it up in the Oval Office with Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Ambassador Sergey Kislyak — a meeting arranged at the request of Vladimir Putin. Under former KGB agent Putin’s rule, according to the State Department, the Russian government has systematically suppressed dissent, persecuted LGBT citizens, ignored the rule of law, and allowed killing and torture by police. Trump repeatedly praises Putin as a “strong leader.”Another recent visitor: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, whom President Obama banned from the Oval Office because of the harshest political repression in Egypt’s history, including the killing of at least 900 people in a single day, August 14, 2015, during security operations to clear protest sites in Cairo. Trump called him a “fantastic guy” and praised his “tough approach.”It was at Mar-A-Lago, not the White House, where Trump shared “the most beautiful piece of chocolate cake that you’ve ever seen” with President Xi Jinping, notorious known for continuing China’s religious repression, crackdowns on free speech and imprisonment of political dissidents. Shortly after their love-fest, The New York Times reported that, under Xi, China has killed or imprisoned 18 to 20 CIA contacts. Trump called him “a tremendous person.”Also invited, but not yet appearing in the White House: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, whose secret police have executed more than 7,000 suspected drug users since he took office less than a year ago. Then, as if to prove he has no moral compass at all, Trump even said he’d be “honored” to meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, currently on the United States sanctions list for human rights abuses, for confining 80,000 to 120,000 dissidents, including children and family members of the accused, in political prison camps. For which you may call him a tyrant. Trump calls him “a smart cookie.”And, of course, Trump soaked up two days of royal treatment in Saudi Arabia without saying a word about human rights in public — even though, according to Human Rights Watch, the nonprofit, nongovernmental human rights organization, the Saudis continue a regime of “arbitrary arrests, trials, and convictions of peaceful dissidents” and where women still don’t have the right to drive a car or leave their home without a male escort. The World Economic Forum ranks Saudi Arabia 141 out of 144 countries for gender parity.Overall, in dealing with foreign leaders, Trump has shown more respect and adoration for tyrants than he has for democratic allies like Germany’s Angela Merkel, with whom he wouldn’t even shake hands.What explains Trump’s fascination with thugs and criminals? Who knows? Perhaps he sincerely believes he can enlist them as partners in combating terrorism. Or, more likely, he admires them and wants to be a strongman, too.Whatever his motivation, in choosing pals to hang out with in the White House, Donald Trump would do well to remember the warning of Proverbs 13:20: “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.”Bill Press is host of a nationally-syndicated radio show, CNN political analyst and the author.