Trump on Tiananmen Square: When I said the Chinese government showed strength, that wasn't a compliment

A leftover from last night’s debate. The idea of Trump using the word “strength” neutrally when describing how a powerful authority dealt with dissenters is about as plausible as the idea of Obama using the word “change” neutrally circa 2008. His entire political identity rests upon the virtues of strength. Probably 80 percent of the reason his fan base is so devoted is that he’s constantly promising to ruthlessly prosecute their enemies, whether “bombing the sh*t” out of ISIS or expanding libel laws to freeze the media or making Mexico pay for the wall or starting a trade war to bring jobs back from China, etc etc etc. So obsessed is Trump with proving his own strength that he’ll often let himself wander into places rhetorically where no civic-minded candidate would go, like when he said at the last debate that the military would obey his illegal orders to torture jihadis because that’s what leadership is all about. Trump’s not going to send in tanks (I think?), but Trumpism almost requires a response to mass protests — protests, not a “riot” like Trump claims here and the ChiComs have been claiming for years — that’s more heavy-handed than what the U.S. is used to. Otherwise, what’s the point? If you want a president who’ll sit around when enemies of the people exercise their First Amendment rights, you should go vote for that “pussy” Ted Cruz.

Here’s the 25-year-old quote Tapper was referring to in his question. There’s nothing complimentary or hortatory in this answer from Trump?

What were your other impressions of the Soviet Union?

I was very unimpressed. Their system is a disaster. What you will see there soon is a revolution; the signs are all there with the demonstrations and picketing. Russia is out of control and the leadership knows it. That’s my problem with Gorbachev. Not a firm enough hand.

You mean firm hand as in China?

When the students poured into Tiananmen Square, the Chinese government almost blew it. Then they were vicious, they were horrible, but they put it down with strength. That shows you the power of strength. Our country is right now perceived as weak … as being spit on by the rest of the world–

What should Gorbachev have done by way of exercising a “firmer hand”? The traditional American view of popular uprisings abroad against authoritarian regimes is that the regime should respect the protesters’ human rights. As Tim Miller says in the second clip below, the thought of Reagan musing that “Gorbachev should have used a firmer hand” is unimaginable. What’s revealing about Trump’s old quote is that he instinctively views the conflict between the people and their rulers from the perspective of power, in terms of how a destabilizing threat should be suppressed. Which, yes, is quite ironic given his new image as the hero of the little guy leading a popular revolution against the elites. Don’t say he didn’t warn you. Repeatedly.