Donald Trump has many faults. So does John Bolton. But their unwillingness to listen to a recording of Jamal Khashoggi being butchered is not wrong. In fact, it’s cheeringly sane. For starters, Bolton and Trump don’t speak Arabic, so there is no point. As Tom Rogan notes, they have the CIA to analyze such things.
Why are reporters and endless Twitterers so eager to know whether Trump and Bolton are listening to the snuff tape? Trump and Bolton, they say, are ducking responsibility. America’s government doesn’t want to be accountable for its policy of standing by the Crown Prince, Mohammed Bin Salman, who is believed to have ordered the killing.
But there is something perverted about this strong wish for leaders to listen to a murder. No doubt the audio is horrifying. It’s thought that Khashoggi was sawn into pieces. As Bolton said when asked if had heard the recording, ‘Why do you think I should?’
‘You’re the National Security Adviser,’ said the reporter, which prompted much gleeful snarking on Twitter.
Bolton, asked if he has listened to the tape of Khashoggi’s murder: "No, I haven't listened to it. Why do you think I should? What do you think I'll learn from it?"
Reporter: "You're the national security adviser."
— Rebecca Ballhaus (@rebeccaballhaus) November 27, 2018
But Bolton is right and the reporter is wrong. One of the great sicknesses of our age is the rise of horror porn: people now watch and gleefully share videos of beheadings, beatings, and cruel acts. The President himself did so last year when he retweeted a Britain First video post of a disabled boy being beaten up (I shan’t link). It’s a pornographic impulse: the sicker, the better. What makes it worse is that social media users circulate disgusting images while saying how disgusted they are. It’s become virtuous to broadcast violent crime, so long as you say how disgusted you are as you do. No doubt if or when the Khashoggi tape is released, we’ll see a lot of that.
But we don’t need our police chiefs to watch child pornography to know that child abuse is a terrible crime. Similarly, we don’t need leaders to listen to a murder to know what happened. It won’t make their decisions better if they do.