The left allows itself any number of rhetorical excesses about Donald Trump. He is a “fascist,” a dangerous “strongman,” a “tyrant” in waiting, and so forth. But when an actual tyrant dies such as Fidel Castro the left quickly adopts more measured rhetoric. Its hysterical editorialists suddenly turn sedate. They urge people to see a reviled figure in perspective. Castro’s legacy is “divisive,” as the New Yorker hesitantly put it. “Cuba today is a dilapidated country, but its social and economic indicators are the envy of many of its neighbors.”
Casting about for a circumspect word to describe a mass murderer, Barack Obama hit upon “singular.” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau offered the slightly more daring description “remarkable.” Pope Francis called him a “deceased dignitary,” in a telegram that the Vatican normally doesn’t send (it typically only sends telegrams for leaders who die while still in office, according to the Catholic press).
Careful not to mourn his death too obviously, the press peppered its stories with similarly evasive and hedging language: Castro was a “controversial” and “charismatic” figure who, in the laughably neutral words of the New York Times, “transformed Cuba.” Many newspapers made reference to his repression but didn’t want their readers to forget his “achievements” either, as if “free” access to crumbling hospitals balanced out his slaughtering of tens of thousands of people and displacing more than a million people. Under Castro, said the BBC, “Cuba registered some impressive domestic achievements. Good medical care was freely available for all, and Cuba’s infant mortality rates compared favorably with the most sophisticated societies on earth.”
The nods to his monstrous crimes by leftist pols, to the extent any came, were quick and breezy. British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn deserves first prize in this category: “For all his flaws, Castro’s support for Angola played a crucial role in bringing an end to Apartheid in South Africa and he will be remembered both as an internationalist and a champion of social justice.” In that “for all his flaws” lie how many murders?
Naturally, Donald Trump’s honest reaction to Castro’s death generated criticism for its “tone.” In the Washington Post, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers called it “highly problematic.” This, of course, comes from the same media that now openly congratulates itself for its lack of balance in covering Trump. The other day, CNN correspondent Christiane Amanpour was pleading with her fellow journalists to abandon the sham pretense of objectivity and adopt the “Edward R. Murrow standard” for Trump. She believes in “being truthful, not neutral.” She will not stand idle during this “post-truth,” “post-values” age. She will “fight against normalization of the unacceptable.”
She conceives of journalism as a high priesthood that defines good and evil for the unenlightened masses. But not long after cheering her comments, journalists returned to their keyboards to normalize the evil of Castro with evasive pieces on his passing. Even Amanpour got into the act, interviewing international figures about the “unclear” legacy of Castro. She can find nuance in Castro but not in Trump.
Journalists who wouldn’t have survived a day in Castro’s Cuba treat Trump as an enemy of press freedom (for such grave offenses as not informing his press pool that he was going out to dinner). They gasp at Trump’s health care plans, while praising Castro’s hospitals. They freak out over Trump’s “Muslim ban,” while minimizing Castro’s suppression of religious freedom. They couldn’t have voted in Castro’s Cuba but demand a recount in America (Jill Stein called Castro a “symbol of the struggle for justice”).
After Trump won, the New Yorker’s David Remnick nearly fainted from fear. It was a “sickening event,” a “tragedy for the American republic,” and a victory for “authoritarianism” at home and abroad, he wrote. But Castro never elicited such breathless denunciations from his magazine. Castro was merely a “controversial” figure. His totalitarianism generated less outrage from it than Trump’s tweets.
Now the media, never too worried about the jingoism of Castro, is harrumphing over Trump’s flag-burning comments. It can forgive nationalism in foreign leaders but not its own.
Meanwhile, the press continues to push the storyline that Trump’s coming administration is causing the great and good of the world to tremble, a claim to which the American people rightly shrug, especially since many of these international luminaries appalled by Trump’s inauguration will soon turn up at Castro’s funeral.