Ayatollah Khamenei: 'Death to America' really means death to Trump

Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, seems to be looking for some common ground with American progressives. He explained today that the frequent chant “Death to America” is actually aimed specifically at President Trump and some of his top advisers. From the Washington Post:

In comments at a gathering of Iranian air force officers, in which he called the United States the “embodiment of evil,” Khamenei also parsed the “Death to America!” chants so often heard at pro-government rallies in Iran.

“I am telling the Americans, ‘Death to America’ means death to [President] Trump, [national security adviser] John Bolton and [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo,” he said, according to the supreme leader’s official website…

“It means down with the American politicians in charge. We have no fight to pick with the American people,” Khamenei said.

But, he added: “As long as the United States shows viciousness and savagery, the Iranian nation will never cease shouting these words.”

It probably goes without saying that this is nonsense. Iranians have been chanting “Death to America” for decades. In fact, Khamenei has made this claim before that “Death to America” isn’t about the American people. He said that in 2015 when he appeared to agree with a crowd chanting “death to America” even as the Obama administration was trying to make progress on the Iran Deal.

It’s true that some Iranians seem to particularly hate President Trump because he put sanctions on the country and withdrew from the Iran deal. After the withdrawal, a group of Iranian lawmakers burned an American flag and chanted…you can probably guess what they chanted.

“Death to America” may mean different things to different people at different times, but there’s no doubt that there is a mass of people in Iran who see America as an enemy, no matter who is president or what specific policy he is pursuing. And that diffuse anger is encouraged by their leaders.

Here’s a clip from 2007 in which an announcer says, “The hatred and rage of the Muslim people…is directed toward America, the infidel Satanic regime…” The crowd of tens of thousands is chanting this along with him. Is he talking about the Bush administration? About the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan? The point is, it doesn’t really seem to matter what is happening. Death to America is a constant in Iran because there’s one thing every repressive theocracy needs to survive: an enemy.