Moderator Jon Gustafson, at podium, responds to participant comments at Current Events, Nov. 19, in the Phillips Gallery. SC photo by Jan Holly
Moderator Jon Gustafson, at podium, responds to participant comments at Current Events, Nov. 19, in the Phillips Gallery. SC photo by Jan Holly

President Trump’s reluctance to condemn Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s involvement in journalist Jamal Kashoggi’s killing split views down the middle at the Current Events discussion, Nov. 19, at the Phillips Gallery. Moderator Jon Gustafson queried in particular whether America’s business relationship with the Saudis “depends upon us accepting the behavior of an unbalanced executioner in the royal family.”

Regular Current Events participant Tico Moreno pushed back at Gustafson’s premise. “It’s a biased question,” he said. “Trump is between a rock and a hard place. We can’t condone the behavior, but [the Saudis] are our allies against Iran. We have been friends with bad guys before,” Moreno added. “Most important is our policy of getting Iran under control.”

Another attendee suggested that sanctioning Saudi Arabia would be hypocritical. “When the Russians [plotted against] ex-spies in England, punishing Russia was good. But when Saudis kill Kashoggi, we overlook it,” he said. “We should be consistent. We should either punish people who do [bad] things or mind our own business.”

Herb Rubin’s rejoinder to these participants’ assertions was straightforward. “This is not a situation where it is difficult to decide [between] right and wrong,” he said. “Kashoggi was a resident of the U.S. There should be no balancing of business with behavior. This is personal, and it is wrong.”

Jane Picker went further, with a firm indictment of President Trump. “What do you expect of a president who has no morals?” She asked. “We might be better to have Iran as a partner. Iranians are better at protesting their government. Why do we need Saudi Arabia? To sell them arms? We need to rethink the whole issue.”

Andrea Smith forcefully concurred with Picker. “The message we give to the world is, if you buy enough stuff from us, we will ignore your behavior. That’s not the way America used to behave,” she said.

The final comment on the topic called Trump’s motives into question. “This may be more than Realpolitik,” the speaker said. “Trump may have extensive business ties with the Saudi regime. He will twist and turn and try not to admit that the Crown Prince ordered the assassination. He is protecting his own interests, not America’s.”

Gustafson next turned to a question agitating some members of the Democratic Party—whether Nancy Pelosi should regain her position as Speaker of the House of Representatives.

First to respond was Shirley Stewart, who reminded the group that Pelosi “has no one to follow her. She knows her way around Washington. She can raise money for her party. Having proven her ability, I think she deserves another chance,” Stewart said.

Herb Rubin called the criticisms leveled against Pelosi “ageism. Some incoming House members argue for younger leadership, because she has been around for a long time. Pelosi has raised more money than anyone else in her position, and successfully led a generally unruly group,” he said, adding, “There is no alternative to Pelosi.”

Doug Mitchell commented, mordantly, that the Republicans “will love it if she is speaker. She did more for the Republicans than Trump did this election.”

One participant pointed to Pelosi’s strength. “Pelosi is a prolific fundraiser, and during her tenure, she was 100% successful. She is the master. She knows how to work it, and she will be the next Speaker,” he said, but he also cautioned, “they need to do something about the leadership on the Democratic side, and they better make sure their [new] leaders are women.”

One attendee speculated about Trump’s position on the Speakership. “Trump really likes Nancy. He will round up some votes to see that she is Speaker, because he thinks he can work with her,” he said.

Sydney Picker pressed the point that younger House Democrats don’t have the necessary experience to lead. “The House needs a strong speaker to herd the cats and keep them together. Sloppy leadership will throw away [the Democrats’] power.”

Giving equal time to the question of Mitch McConnell’s leadership in the Senate, Gustafson asked, “Why should McConnell retain his position?”

Two responses stood out. The first came from Doug Mitchell, who praised McConnell for his ability to “herd cats and get Trump’s judges through Congress. The second response, taking the opposing view, was more pointed: “McConnell is the most evil man in America.”

Current Events meets 10 a.m. to noon, Mondays, in BIG ARTS’s Phillips Gallery. Malcolm Martini moderates the next session, on Nov. 26. Islanders are invited to join the discussion. Admission is $3.