Let’s just start here (H/T to Killer Mike for the inspiration), with Republican President Ronald Reagan addressing the nation in mid-November 1986:
”Our government has a firm policy not to capitulate to terrorist demands. That no concessions policy remains in force, despite the wildly speculative and false stories about arms for hostages and alleged ransom payments, we did not—repeat—did not trade weapons or anything else for hostages, nor will we.”
You can probably guess what’s coming next even if you don’t know what happened. Per Ronald Reagan in an address to the nation on March 4th, 1987:
“A few months ago, I told the American people I did not trade arms for hostages. My heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts of the evidence tell me it is not.”
Welcome to the Reagan Era! Where patently absurd, contradictory and utterly Trumpian sentences like “my heart and my best intentions still tell me that’s true, but the facts of the evidence tell me it is not” are taken at face value. That quote trying to convince you that words don’t mean anything may be the best piece of evidence we have that Trump is the logical direction the party of Reagan was always going to turn in its dying days.
No presidential administration in modern history (including Trump…for now) earned as many indictments as the Reagan Administration, and this is where we connect this heinous presidency to yesterday’s major event, where Representative Ilhan Omar showed a war criminal complicit in a legally recognized genocide the exact amount of respect he deserved.
Watch all of this.
Because Trump is the (de-)evolutionary Reagan, Elliott Abrams is back in the news because Secretary of State Mike Pompeo named the disgraced/pardoned ex-convict as Trump’s special envoy to Venezuela, a country stuck in the middle of a power struggle between a “socialist” leader (who has been ruling via emergency decree for most of this century) and the U.S.-supported insurgency of Juan Guaido.
From 1981 to 1989 and from 2001 to 2009, Elliott Abrams served in two Republican administrations, earning titles like “assistant secretary of state for international organization affairs” and “deputy national security adviser for global democracy strategy.” What those vague normalcies of governance paper over are the actual jobs Abrams worked on.
Elliot Abrams was a major architect of the American support for the Salvadoran government in the 1980s, which, along with its affiliated death squads, massacred upwards of 70,000 people in a country the size of New Jersey. As Jon Schwartz noted in his must-read recap of Abrams’ career in The Intercept, “the equivalent number of deaths in the U.S. would be almost 5 million.”
Abrams said that “if we take the attitude ‘don’t come to us until you’re perfect, we’re going to walk away from this problem until Guatemala has a perfect human rights record”—referencing (whether he meant to or not) what is sparsely known as the Silent Holocaust—where the (U.S.-backed) Guatemalan government massacred between 45,000 and 60,000 adult Guatemalan Mayans between 1980 and 1985 (I say “adult” because that grotesque figure doesn’t include crimes against humanity—multiple—like the Rio Negro massacres where 5,000 children were explicitly targeted and murdered by this U.S.-backed government).
Bringing this full-circle to the Reagan quotes at the top of the article, Elliott Abrams advocated for a full invasion of Nicaragua, was questioned about his activities surrounding Iran-Contra, lied, pleaded guilty to two counts of withholding information, and was later pardoned by Republican President George H.W. Bush after he lost the 1992 election.
Representative Ilhan Omar’s interrogation yesterday in congress, plus Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez setting Twitter video records by using her time this last week to highlight the corruption baked into our system, demonstrate the vast generational divide in politics. The last generation of politicians largely avoided rocking the boat with their donors and have mostly played nice with war criminals like Elliott Abrams because people like him are supposed to be respected statesmen who have spent a lot of time in government, and so it would be in poor taste to embarrass them about their past—especially with the whole nation watching.
This incoming generation of politicians doesn’t give a shit about niceties for the sake of being nice—especially when it comes to war criminals. They are there to work the job. People like Elliott Abrams have brought an abomination upon humanity, and they should be disgraced and held up as an example of the shameful past we intend to avoid in the future.
Ilhan Omar has shown more political courage in the past week on the topic of the state of Israel using AIPAC to lobby D.C. (I am Jewish and I took zero offense to her assertion that a lobbying organization pays to lobby Congress) and this Elliott Abrams interrogation than almost the entire Democratic Party of the last 40 years combined. This four-plus minutes of direct, purposeful questioning from a refugee to a war criminal feels like what we would positively classify as “American,” and it gives me hope that there is a better, more accountable future ahead of us.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.