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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

If you ask Donald Trump, the 1989 massacre at Tiananmen Square was just a “riot.” He voiced his patently false view of the crackdown on student protesters in Beijing in 1989 at last night’s debate. This is not the first time Trump has spoke positively of undemocratic governments and politicians during this campaign.

Asked by CNN’s Jake Tapper about comments he made supporting oppressive foreign governments, and specifically his comments on the crackdown in 1989, Trump responded with typical ambiguity. “That doesn’t mean I was endorsing that. I was not endorsing it. I said that is a strong, powerful government that put it down with strength. And then they kept down the riot. It was a horrible thing. It doesn’t mean at all I was endorsing it.” But, just like the David Duke controversy, he didn’t condemn what was a deplorable act of violence against Chinese students demanding representative government, either.

His response isn’t surprising, though, coming from a man whose supporters cite his “strength” as a positive trait they support. Trump has made “strength” a central part of his brand as he barrels towards the Republican nomination. In a victory speech after the South Carolina primary, Trump glorified militarism and strength.

“We’re going to build our military so big, so good, so strong, so powerful that nobody is ever going to mess with us, folks,” he said. One wonders how else he envisions using that big, good, powerful military if he ever becomes president.

Trump’s description of the student-led protests to demand democratic rule in China, which he called riots, runs contrary even to contemporaneous American accounts of what happened that day. On the 25th anniversary of the crackdown, Kate Phillips, an American teaching English in Beijing, wrote her account of the military’s response to the protesting students.

“It was a massacre. Most of the carnage occurred not in the Square or right around it, but in the western-approaching streets that led to the Square. I viewed the videotapes of bloody bodies that came in with camera crews, and I made phone calls to local hospitals and to the Chinese Red Cross,” she said. “We kept a running tally of the number of dead, which had reached 2,600 before everyone was ordered to stop talking to us.” While the death toll has been disputed, there was no doubt that hundreds of people were killed.

Following the violent crackdown, the Chinese state media downplayed the number of civilians killed in the crackdown. According to Phillips, state television spent the next few days exaggerating the number of soldiers who were killed. “The government initiated a whitewashing campaign, insisting that only a handful of civilians had died but that hundreds of soldiers had been beaten to death by rabble-rousers. In the coming days, Chinese television replayed tragic footage of these soldiers’ beatings,” she said.

Trump has singled out China as one of the reasons the U.S. is losing respect and economic strength on the global stage. “China has gotten rich off us,” Trump recently told CNN. “China has rebuilt itself with the money it’s sucked out of the United States and the jobs that it’s sucked out of the United States.” This despite the fact that much of his branded merchandise is made by foreign workers.

The bigger issue, of course, is Trump’s support of the Chinese government’s crackdown on dissent. But it fits with the patent disregard he has displayed for the press, protesters, and political opponents during his campaign. In many ways, Trump’s rhetoric indicates the sort of America he envisions: one that opens up libel laws and restores the “good old days,” when protesters left rallies in stretchers.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany

White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany was forced to defend President Donald Trump's recent attacks on MSNBC host Joe Scarborough on Tuesday, an unenviable task she nevertheless intentionally signed up for. She desperately tried to divert the attention back to Scarborough — without engaging in the president's conspiracy theorizing — but offered no credible defense of the president's conduct.

Trump has been spreading the debunked theory that Scarborough killed a staffer in 2001 while he was in Congress, even though it was determined she died of natural causes. The staffer's widower wrote a released a letter on Tuesday pleading with Twitter to take down the president's offensive tweets promoting the thoery. He said he was "angry," "frustrated," and "grieved" by the president's promotion of the harmful allegations. Trump is perverting his late wife's memory, he said, and he fears her niece and nephews will encounter these attacks.When asked about the letter, McEnany said she wasn't sure if the president had seen it. But she said their "hearts" are with the woman's family "at this time." It was a deeply ironic comment because the only particularly traumatizing thing about "this time" for the family is the president's attacks, which come nearly two decades after the woman's death.

McEnany refused to offer any explanation of Trump's comments and instead redirected reporters to a clip of Scarborough on Don Imus's radio show in 2003. In that show, Imus made a tasteless joke obliquely referring to the death, and Scarborough laughed at it briefly.

"Why is the president making these unfounded allegations?" asked ABC News' Jonathan Karl. "I mean, this is pretty nuts, isn't it? The president is accusing someone of possible murder. The family is pleading with the president to please stop unfounded conspiracy theories. Why is he doing it?""The president said this morning, this is not an original Trump thought. And it is not," she said, bringing up the Imus clip. But she made no mention of why the president is bringing up the issue 17 years later and with a much larger platform.

When pressed further on the president's conduct, she again diverted blame to Scarborough, saying his morning show unfairly criticizes the president. But again, she offered no substantive defense of Trump.

After McEnany had moved on, PBS reporter Yamiche Alcindor brought it up again: "Why won't the president give this widower peace and stop tweeting about the conspiracy theory involving his wife?"

McEnany said she had already answered the question, which she hadn't, and said the onus is on Scarborough to explain the Imus clip."The widower is talking specifically about the president!" Alcindor shot back. But McEnany called on Chanel Rion, with the aggressively pro-Trump outlet OAN, who changed the subject to conspiracy theories about the origins of the Russia investigation.

"Are you not going to answer that?" Alcindor called out, still trying to get a substantive response to her question, but Rion spoke over her.

At the end of the briefing, another reporter asked whether Trump was looking for any actual law enforcement steps be taken in response to his conspiracy theory. But McEnany had nothing to add, and simply told people to listen to the Imus clip again. As she hurried out of the briefing room, a reporter asked if Trump would stop promoting the theory — but she left without answering.

Watch the exchange about Klausutis, which begins at 48:45.