Saturday, June 16, 2018

Dictator Envy - A brief note on Trump's zero-sum narcissism, and some recent writing

Zero-sum narcissism is Trump’s trademark pathology: if you win I lose; if you are tall I am short (probably a factor in his ire directed at Justin Trudeau; James Comey; Obama); I can’t make America great “again” without trashing my predecessors and allies. This is what the G6 has to contend with. Sometimes Trump tries to soften his brutal edge with what wiseguys would call "kidding on the level," saying what he means but calling it a joke. Even that frustrates him, however, which is why he so obviously longs for the powers of a true tyrant. Call it dictator envy.

I spoke about this briefly with Katy Tur on MSNBC.

Some of my recent writing on Trump and other would-be dictators:

The Madness of King Trump on Full Display at the G7
The Group of Seven is a club that is supposed to represent shared values. But, um, Trump doesn’t share any of them. No wonder he wanted his buddy Putin back in.

Facing Down the Death Squads of Nicaragua
In Nicaragua’s second great uprising, an aging, corrupt leader of the first revolt has become the savage enemy of the new one.

(with Bianca Jagger reporting from Managua)

Former intelligence chief’s argument that Putin did indeed sway the 2016 vote
My review of former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's memoir, in The Washington Post.

Finally, this is the White House transcript of Trump musing with the press on the lawn a couple of days ago:

North Lawn
9:03 A.M. EDT
Q    (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT:  No, I think that James Comey was (inaudible).  I think what he did was a disgrace.  I think he goes down as the worst FBI Director in history, by far.  There’s nobody close.  And I think I did the country a tremendous favor by firing him.
Q    (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT:  No, I think — actually, if you take a look, when he totally exonerated her — because I call it “Comey Three.”  You had one, two, and then you had Comey three.  He totally exonerated her.  And if anything he’s saying is correct, what she did is they tried to pretend it didn’t happen.  I would have gone out there and I would have had the greatest news conference in history.  They tried to pretend the exoneration didn’t happen.
Now, the exoneration was incorrect because there’s no way they could have checked that number of emails in just a few days.  But if you remember, just before the election, he went out and he exonerated her and they didn’t even talk about it.  That was the greatest political mistake.
With all of that being said, I won Wisconsin, I won Michigan, I won states that a Republican hasn’t won in many, many decades, years.  She didn’t do a good job and you never gave me credit for doing a great job.  But the fact is, I did a great job.
Q    Mr. President, there was a Fox news report this week that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein is pushing back and threatening to investigate the congressional investigators who just want documents.  Do you think that that is appropriate?
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I hope that’s not so.  And I know they’re getting documents.  And I purposely — look, if you see what I’ve done with North Korea and with the State Department, Mike Pompeo, it’s running so well.  It’s — I have this running so well.  I have purposefully, because of this ridiculous witch hunt, I have said I’m going to stay away from the Justice Department until it’s completed.  So I wanted to stay away.  Now, that doesn’t mean I have to, because I don’t have to.  I can get involved.  But I don’t want you people to say that I’m interfering, that I’m doing anything.
I think that the report yesterday, maybe more importantly than anything, it totally exonerates me.  There was no collusion.  There was no obstruction.  And if you read the report, you’ll see that.
What you’ll really —
Q    On North Korea —
THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me.  Wait, wait, wait.  What you’ll really see is you’ll see bias against me and millions and tens of millions of my followers.  That is really a disgrace.
And yet, if you go — and yet, if you look at the FBI, and you went in and you called the FBI — the real FBI — those guys love me, and I love them.
Q    Are you going to suspend Mueller?  Are you thinking of suspending Mueller?
THE PRESIDENT:  No, but I think that whole investigation now is — look, the problem with the Mueller investigation is everybody has got massive conflicts.  You have Weissmann who was at Hillary Clinton’s funeral, meaning, her party that turned into a funeral.  And they were screaming and crying and they were going crazy.  How can you have people like this?  So you have — I call them the “13 Angry Democrats.”  You have a tremendous animosity.
Now, here’s the good news: I did nothing wrong.  There was no collusion.  There was no obstruction.  The IG report yesterday went a long way to show that.  And I think that the Mueller investigation has been totally discredited.
Q    Mr. President, you have spoken so passionately about the circumstances that led to Otto Warmbier’s death.
Q    In the same breath, you’re defending now Kim Jong Un’s human rights records.  How can you do that?
THE PRESIDENT:  You know why?  Because I don’t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you or your family.  I don’t want to see —
Q    By the way, you declared the nuclear threat from North Korea is over.
THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me.  Because I don’t want to see a nuclear weapon destroy you and your family.  I want to have a good relationship with North Korea.  I want to have a good relationship with many other countries.  And what I’ve done, if you remember, if you’re fair, which most of you aren’t — but if you’re fair, when I came in, people thought we were probably going to war with North Korea.  If we did —
Q    You say the threat is over.  Is it over?
THE PRESIDENT:  Quiet.  Quiet.  Quiet.  If we did, millions of people would have been killed.  I don’t mean like — you know, people are saying 100,000.  Seoul has 28 million people 30 miles off the border.  You would have had 30, 40, 50 million people killed.  Who knows what would have happened?
I came in; that was what I inherited.  I should have never inherited.  That should have been solved long before I got there.  I did a great job this week.  The fake news said, “Oh, you met.”  But the only thing they saw that I gave up — one broadcast said, “He gave up so much.”  You know what I gave up?  I met.  I met.  We had great chemistry.  He gave us a lot.  You haven’t had a missile test in seven months.  You haven’t had a firing.  You haven’t had a nuclear test in eight and a half months.  You haven’t had missiles flying over Japan.  He gave us the remains of our great heroes.  I have had so many people begging me — parents, and fathers, mothers, daughters, sons — wherever I went, “Could you please get the remains of my boy back?”  They’re giving them back.  Nobody thought that was possible.
Q    Sir —
THE PRESIDENT:  Wait, wait.  They’re doing so much.  And now we’re well on our way to denuclearization.  And the agreement says there will be total denuclearization.  Nobody wants to report that.
So the only thing I did was I met.  I got along with him great.  He is great.  We have a great chemistry together.  That’s a good thing, not a bad thing.
Q    How can Kim love his people if he’s killing them?
THE PRESIDENT:  I can’t speak to that.  I can only speak to the fact that we signed an incredible agreement.  It’s great.  And it’s going to be great for them, too.  Because now North Korea can develop and North Korea can become a great country economically.  It can become whatever they want.  But there won’t be nuclear weapons and they won’t be aimed at you and your families.
Q    Mr. President, why did you offer to halt the military exercises with South Korea?
THE PRESIDENT:  That was my offer.  Just so you understand.  Military —
Q    (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay, you want to hear?
Q    Yeah.
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay?  Military — I call them “war games.”  I hated them from the day I came in.  I said, why aren’t we being reimbursed?
Q    That’s North Korea’s term.  “War games.”
THE PRESIDENT:  That’s my term.
Q    They use it too.
THE PRESIDENT:  They might use it.  We pay for it.  We pay millions and millions of dollars for planes, and all of this.  It’s my term.  I said, I’d like to halt it because it’s bad to be negotiating and doing it.  It costs us a lot of money.  I saved lot of money.  That’s a good thing for us.
Okay, go ahead.
Q    What did you mean just now when you said you wished Americans would sit up at attention when you spoke —
THE PRESIDENT:  I’m kidding.  You don’t understand sarcasm.  Who are you with?
Wait, wait, who are you with?  Who are you with?
Q    CNN.
THE PRESIDENT:  You’re with CNN!  Hey, you are the worst.
Q    Mr. President —
Q    (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT:  Wait, wait, we have time.
Q    So there’s some high-profile court cases going on.  You’ve got a former campaign manager, your former lawyer.  They’re all dealing with legal troubles.  Are you paying close attention —
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I feel badly about a lot of them, because I think a lot of it is very unfair.  I mean, I look at some of them where they go back 12 years.  Like Manafort has nothing to do with our campaign.  But I feel so — I tell you, I feel a little badly about it.  They went back 12 years to get things that he did 12 years ago?
You know, Paul Manafort worked for me for a very short period of time.  He worked for Ronald Reagan.  He worked for Bob Dole.  He worked for John McCain, or his firm did.  He worked for many other Republicans.  He worked for me, what, for 49 days or something?  A very short period of time.
I feel badly for some people, because they’ve gone back 12 years to find things about somebody, and I don’t think it’s right.  I don’t think it’s right that they burst into a lawyer’s office on a weekend and early in the morning.  I never heard of that before.  I mean, could you imagine if they burst into Barack Obama’s lawyer’s office?  It would not be acceptable.  It would not be acceptable.  I mean, that’s really a terrible thing.
Now, I feel badly for a lot of those people.  I feel badly for General Flynn.  He’s lost his house.  He’s lost his life.  And some people say he lied, and some people say he didn’t lie.  I mean, really, it turned out maybe he didn’t lie.  So how can you do that?  How can you do that — because who has lied more than Comey?  I mean, Comey lied a tremendous amount.
Q    You say that you feel badly.  Is there any consideration at any point of a pardon for any of the people that you —
THE PRESIDENT:  I don’t want to talk about that.  No, I don’t want to talk about that.  They’ll (inaudible).  But look, I do want to see people treated fairly.  That’s what it’s all about.
I mentioned the other day — you saw what I did with the woman — she’s in jail for 23 years on charges where other people are out after three months.  I thought it was a very unfair.  It was brought to — and she had another 20 years left, okay?  She was 63 years old.
Q    What about those who don’t have a celebrity talking for them?
Q    What about all those folks who don’t have Kim Kardashian speaking on their behalf?
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’m looking at them too, if you don’t mind.  I’m looking at them too.
Q    Do you worry that Michael Cohen might flip?
THE PRESIDENT:  One second.
Q    Are you worried that Michael Cohen might flip?
THE PRESIDENT:  Look, I did nothing wrong.  You have to understand, this stuff would have come out a long time ago.  I did nothing wrong.  I don’t do anything wrong.
Q    Is Michael Cohen still your friend?
THE PRESIDENT:  It’s really nice.
Q    Is he still your friend?
THE PRESIDENT:  I always liked Michael Cohen.  I haven’t spoken to Michael in a long time.
Q    Is he still your lawyer?
THE PRESIDENT:  No, he’s not my lawyer anymore.  But I always liked Michael, and he’s a good person.  And I think he’s been —
Q    Are you worried he will cooperate?
THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me, do you mind if I talk?
Q    I just want to know if you’re worried —
THE PRESIDENT:  You’re asking me a question; I’m trying to ask it.
Q    I just want to know if you’re worried if he’s going to cooperate with federal investigators.
THE PRESIDENT:  No, I’m not worried because I did nothing wrong.
Q    Got it.  Got it.
THE PRESIDENT:  Nothing wrong.
Q    Mr. President, did you tape that statement about Don Jr.?  Did you dictate the statement about Donald Trump, Jr.?
THE PRESIDENT:  Let’s not talk about it.  You know what that is?
Q    But can you tell us?
THE PRESIDENT:  It’s irrelevant.  It’s a statement to the New York Times — the phony, failing New York Times.
Q    Well, just to clear it up.  To clear it up.
THE PRESIDENT:  Just wait a minute.  Wait a minute.  That’s not a statement to a high tribunal of judges.
Q    Understood.
THE PRESIDENT:  That’s a statement to the phony New York Times.
In fact, frankly, he shouldn’t even speak to the New York Times because they only write phony stories anyway, although yesterday they wrote a nice story about what a (inaudible).
Q    Thank you, sir.  On the IG report, you’ve said twice now that it exonerated you and it proved there’s no collusion.  The IG report —
THE PRESIDENT:  Look, if you read the IG report, I’ve been totally exonerated.  As far as I’m concerned —
Q    It had nothing to do with collusion.  It had nothing to do with that.
THE PRESIDENT:  Take a little at it.  Take — no, take a look at the investigation.  Take a look at how it started.  Take a look at the horrible statements that Peter Strzok, the chief investigator, said.  And take a look at what he did with Hillary Clinton.  Take a look at —
Q    (Inaudible), sir, that has nothing to do with collusion.  Why are you lying about it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll tell you what — you’re asking me about Peter Strzok being fired.  I am amazed that Peter Strzok is still at the FBI, and so is everybody else that read that report.  And I’m not even talking about the report; I’m talking about long before the report.  Peter Strzok should have been fired a long time ago, and others should have been fired.
Q    Mr. President, are you going to fire Scott Pruitt?
THE PRESIDENT:  I’m looking at Scott, and Scott has done a fantastic job at EPA, but — you know, we’ll — we’ll make —
Q    You don’t see anything problems with his ethical —
THE PRESIDENT:  I’m not happy about certain things, I’ll be honest.
Q    Are you going to fire him?
THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me.  Excuse me.  I’m not happy about certain things.  But he’s done a fantastic job running the EPA, which is very overriding.  But I am not happy about it.
Q    Do you think he’s used his position for private gain?
THE PRESIDENT:  I hope not.
Q    Mr. President, do you agree with children being taken away from (inaudible)?
THE PRESIDENT:  No, I hate it.  I hate the children being taken away.  The Democrats have to change their law.  That’s their law.  They will force —
Q    Sir, that’s your own policy.  That’s your own policy.  Why do you keep lying about it, sir?
THE PRESIDENT:  Quiet.  Quiet.  That’s the Democrats’ law.  We can change it tonight.  We can change it right now.  I will leave here —
Q    You’re the President.  You can change it right now.
THE PRESIDENT:  I will leave here — no, no.  You need their votes.  You need their votes.  The Democrats, all they have to do —
Q    Mr. President, you control both chambers of Congress.  The Republicans do.
THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me.  By one vote?  We don’t need it.  You need 60 votes.
Q    (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT:  Excuse me.  We have the one vote — excuse me.  We need a one-vote — we have a one-vote edge.  We need 60.  So we need 10 votes.  We can’t get them from the Democrats.
Q    What about executive action?
THE PRESIDENT:  Now, wait.  Wait.  You can’t do it through an executive order.
Q    On North Korea, sir.  On North Korea.
Q    Mr. President, why —
THE PRESIDENT:  Can we do one question at a time?  Wait.  One question at a time.
Q    (Inaudible.)
THE PRESIDENT:  The children can be taken care of quickly, beautifully, and immediately.  The Democrats forced that law upon our nation.  I hate it.  I hate to see separation of parents and children.  The Democrats can come to us as they actually are — in all fairness, we are talking to them — and they can change the whole border security.
We need a wall.  We need border security.  We got to get rid of catch-and-release.  You catch a criminal, you take his name, you release him, and he never shows up again.  He goes into our society, and then we end up getting him in a different way, oftentimes after he’s killed somebody.  We’ve got to change our laws.  The Democrats have control because we don’t have the votes.  The Republicans need — we need more Republicans, frankly.  And that’s why I think we’re going to do so well in the midterms.  That and because —
Q    Do you support the immigration compromise, Mr. President?
THE PRESIDENT:  Wait.  That and because we have the strongest economy in the history of our nation.  We have the best jobs numbers in the last 44 years.  Top of Drudge: “The best job numbers in 44 years.”
Q    But then, Mr. President — but then why did Jeff Sessions announce a zero-tolerance policy at the border on May 7th?  Is that not a Republican —
THE PRESIDENT:  Because he’s following the law.
Q    Is that not a Republican policy?
Q    Is that not a Republican policy?
THE PRESIDENT:  No.  He’s following laws.  He following a law that —
Q    But that was a direct order to —
THE PRESIDENT:  Can I answer your question, please?
Q    Yes.
THE PRESIDENT:  Okay?  You’re just asking me the same question over and over.  He’s following laws, very simply, that were given to us and forced upon us by the Democrats.
Q    That’s not true, sir.  That’s not true.
Q    But there’s no law that says families have to separated at the border.  There’s another way to go about it, Mr. President.
THE PRESIDENT:  The Democrats gave us the laws.  Now, I want the laws to be beautiful, humane, but strong.  I don’t want bad people coming in.  I don’t want drugs coming in.  And we can solve that problem in one meeting.  Tell the Democrats, your friends, to call me.
Q    Mr. President, at the end of the “Fox & Friends” interview, you said that you were going to spend Father’s Day weekend doing work, and you said that you were going to have a call with North Korea.  Who are you going to talk to in North Korea?
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, I’m going to speak to people in North Korea, and I’m going to speak to my people who are over in North Korea.  A lot of things are happening.
And I will tell you this: We now have a very good relationship with North Korea.  When I came into this job, it looked like war — not because of me, but because — if you remember the sit-down with Barack Obama, I think you will admit this, he said the biggest problem that the United States has, and by far the most dangerous problem — and he said to me — that we’ve ever had, because of nuclear, is North Korea.
Now, that was shortly before I entered office.  I have solved that problem.  Now, we’re getting it memorialized and all, but that problem is largely solved, and part of the reason is we signed, number one, a very good document.  But you know what?  More importantly than the document — more importantly than the document, I have a good relationship with Kim Jong Un.  That’s a very important thing.
I can now call him.  I can now say, “Well, we have a problem.”  I told him — I gave him a very direct number.  He can now call me if he has any difficulty.  I can call him.  We have communication.  It’s a very good thing.
People are shocked that this is the kind of — you know, they thought Trump was going to get in and he was going to start throwing bombs all over the place.  It’s actually the opposite.
But we’re building a military so strong — $716 billion next year; $700 [billion] this year.  We’re building a military so strong, nobody is going to mess with us.  But you know what?  I never want to have to use it.
Q    (Inaudible.)
Q    What’s the verification process?
Q    You told Americans that they can sleep well at night, and you declared there’s no more nuclear threat.
Q    What’s verification process going to look like?
THE PRESIDENT:  We’re going to have a very strong verification process.
Q    What’s it’s going to look like?
THE PRESIDENT:  Now, if you read the agreement, which most of you didn’t, point after point after point he gave, including getting back our — the remains of our great heroes, okay?  Of our great, great heroes.  Which made — some people are crying in the streets they’re so happy.  Nobody thought we were going to get that.  Point after point.
All they said about me is, “You met.  He met.  It’s terrible you met.”  Of course I met.  Meeting is a good thing, not a bad thing.  By the way, it was good for the United States; it was good for them.
I spoke with China.  They are very happy.  Actually, they were much happier.  Now, they may not be as happy today because of what I’m doing with trade.  You probably heard that.  I assume it’s been announced by now.  But we’re putting tariffs on 50 billion dollars’ worth of technology and other things because we have to, because we’ve been treated very unfairly.
But China has been terrific.  President Xi has been terrific.  President Moon, everybody — we’re all working together because of me.
Q    How long will you give Kim Jong Un to follow through on denuclearization before you —
THE PRESIDENT:  Well, we’re working it as fast as possible.
Q    Is he coming to the White House soon?
Q    — before you put sanctions back on?
THE PRESIDENT:  We’re working it as fast as possible.
Q    Is he visiting the White House, Mr. Trump?
THE PRESIDENT:  We’re working that.  We’re working denuclearization as fast as possible.
Q    Are you planning to meet with Putin this summer?
THE PRESIDENT:  It’s possible that we’ll meet, yeah.  And I thought — you know, this all started because somebody — one of you — asked, “Should Putin be in the G7?”  I said, no, he should be in the G8.
A few years ago, Putin was in what was called the G8.  I think it’s better to have Russia in than to have Russia out, because just like North Korea, just like somebody else, it’s much better if we get along with them than if we don’t.
So it’s possible.  Just so you understand —
Q    Is Crimea part of Russia?  Do you —
THE PRESIDENT:  No, no.  President Obama lost Crimea, just so you understand.  This was long before I got there.  Just — I want to make it so the fake news prints it properly.  President Obama lost Crimea.
Q    So it’s his fault?
THE PRESIDENT:  Wait, wait.  That’s his fault.  Yeah, yeah, it’s his fault.  Yeah, it’s his fault.
Q    How is it not Putin’s fault, sir?
THE PRESIDENT:  The President — just so you understand —
Q    How is it not Putin’s fault, sir?  How is it not Putin’s fault?  He invaded them.
THE PRESIDENT:  Because — because Putin didn’t respect President Obama.  President Obama lost Crimea because President Putin didn’t respect President Obama, didn’t respect our country, and didn’t respect Ukraine.
But President Obama, not Trump — when it’s my fault, I’ll tell you.  But President Obama gave away that.  Now, President Obama, by not going across the red line in the sand that he drew — I went across it with the 59 missile hits.  But President Obama, when he didn’t go across the red line, what he gave away, nobody even knows.
But just to put it — one more time, President Obama gave away Crimea.  That should have never happened.
9:21 A.M. EDT 

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

Recent Writing: Trump's 'Fake News' Mantra Metastasizes; Iran Gets Ready; Macron in Washington; Syria Strikes; Cuba's New President

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

My 40 Years Covering War and Migration

Updated June 30, 2018:

As I prepared for the Salon on Stockton conference in Princeton NJ last April, I looked back on 40 years covering war and migration ... 

A young girl and baby I met in a Salvadoran refugee camp in Honduras, 1980 @Christopher Dickey

I started my career with The Washington Post in the 1970s covering immigrant communities in the DC area, from Vietnamese boat people to Salvadoran refugees, which is how I wound up as Central America bureau chief for the Post in 1980.

Then came my time of wars, in Central America during the first half of the 1980s, and in the Middle East from 1985 to 2005.

Along the way, there were certain fundamental issues that kept staring me in the face, and that I realized very few Americans understood, especially when it comes to the root causes of wars and migration.

One is the insidious nature of military occupation, an evil borne by both the occupied and the occupier. In 2011, as the 2012 presidential elections approached, Newsweek produced this brief film clip to explain:

A lot of Americans have trouble understanding, as well, the vital importance of extended families – what we call tribes, clans, even mafias – in most of the world's cultures. “Chain migration”? “Family reunification”? In Summer of Deliverance: A Memoir of Father and Son, published 20 years ago, I reflected on Americans who “have” families, and people in the rest of the world who “belong” to them.

To break through those barriers of public obliviousness takes a huge amount of work, which is one reason I admire the new book on Syria, No Turning Back by Rania Abouzeid, which I reviewed for The New York Times.

But the frustrations for a reporter are enormous, as I found reviewing three novels by war correspondents in 2003. 

In 2015, after the world was moved to tears by photos of little Alan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey, CNN asked me to reflect on the refugee crisis. It's a short clip, but I said about as much as I could then, or now.

Finally, I suspect some people who have seen the invitations to Salon on Stockton have been wondering what a book about the Civil War has to do with a discussion of modern wars and migrations. 

Quite a lot, in fact. 

Americans have forgotten most of their "little" wars and even some of the bigger ones. Who remembers that in the 1980s and 1990s we carried out military actions against one enemy or another, covertly or overtly, almost every year. I know, because I was on the ground during many of those operations watching people dying and bombs falling, and discovering when I was back in the States that people turned the page or changed the channel as soon as they were told "mission accomplished."

But there is one war that Americans never forget, and that is the Civil War, and it was the direct outgrowth of one of the most hideous forced migrations in history: the transport of slaves from West Africa to the Americas. By the late 1850s, many in the American South were anxious to reopen that trade, which had been recognized as a holocaust by most civilized nations and banned half a century before. In point of fact, profiteering American ships had never stopped carrying slaves—Old Glory dominated the market—even though by mid-century most of the African captives were destined for Cuba, where the economy was built on the principle that you could work a Negro to death, because he was easy to replace with cheap new imports.

Eventually under pressure from the British the U.S. Federal government tried to interdict some of that traffic, and some of the criminal ships were brought into Southern ports. But Southern grand juries refused to indict as, increasingly, they refused to acknowledge the authority of Washington. For economic and what they claimed were moral reasons, the secessionists were pushing to reopen the slave trade with Africa, and used it as a wedge issue to tear apart the country.

This is the description in Our Man of Charleston of one of those slave vessels at a moment when, for many who had talked about re-opening the trans-Atlantic slave trade as a theoretical possibility, its horrors suddenly were put in front of their faces:

"THERE, RIGHT IN CHARLESTON HARBOR , was the horror that the South did not want to imagine—a slave ship. Vomit and urine and feces and blood had seeped deep into the raw wood of the sunless, slapped-together slave decks in the hold, staining them indelibly with filth. Cockroaches by the millions seethed among the boards, and clouds of fleas and gnats rose up from them. The stench that came from this vessel wasn’t the smell of a ship full of cattle and horses, but that peculiar smell that surrounds humans, and only humans who are very afraid and very sick or dying or dead. And in late August 1858, when the water in Charleston Harbor was as still and flat and thick as oil, and the air was stifling hot and heavy, that hideous odor issued from the brig called the Echo captured off the coast of Cuba a few days before."

Of the 455 Africans taken on board the Echo near Kabinda on the African coast, more than 100 perished during the weeks at sea, and were thrown overboard. "The shark of the Atlantic is still, as he has ever been, the partner of the slaver trader," wrote a British editorialist. And even after the survivors were taken off the ship they continued to die every day. They were housed temporarily in what was then the still-unfinished Fort Sumter out in Charleston Harbor, and many were so weak they could not even step over the lintel. The U.S. marshal at Charleston, who previously had been vocal in his support for reopening the slave trade with Africa, felt differently after watching over some of its victims for three weeks at Sumter. "Thirty-five died while in my custody," he wrote to a friend, "and at one time I supposed that one hundred would have fallen a sacrifice to the cruelties to which the poor creatures had been subjected on board the slaver. I wish that everyone in South Carolina who is in favor of the re-opening of the slave trade could have sen what I have been compelled to witness ... It seems to me that I can never forget it."

Yet people see what they want to see, and the cynical report what they want to report.  The anti-Federal pro-slave-trade secessionists insisted those captive Africans from the Echo were fat and happy while they stayed at Sumter. The "savages" appeared to be "in fine spirit and entertained their visitors with a display of their abilities in dancing and singing," wrote the ardently secessionist Charleston Mercury. 

You see, fake news is nothing new at all, and one of its accomplishments is to help people escape responsibilities for the horrors they inflict, while inspiring them with hysterical fears of those who are foreign, or simply of another race.

That was true on the road to Civil War. And, sadly, it is all too true today.

The top portion of this post is adapted from an earlier thread on Twitter.