Defending the Big Johnson: Why Gary Johnson’s Aleppo Gaffe Makes Him Better Than Trump

Libertarian Vice-Presidential candidate Bill Weld today reminded me of why I have a soft spot in my heart for true free market libertarians, even as I disagree with them on a host of issues. On MSNBC, he made clear that he felt that Trump’s wall and his anti-Muslim rhetoric are wrong and deeply at odds with an American ethos of freedom and liberalism (as in the most classical sense of that oft-maligned term where we are liberal with the freedoms and liberties we afford others, allowing them to travel and pray and think as they wish without our interference or monitoring).

I imagine it comes as no surprise to most who read my work that I will be voting for Stein in November, barring some bizarre change of circumstances such as California being closer than anticipated (to a frankly nigh-impossible degree) or some complete sea change in the behavior of one of the candidates. At this point, I can’t imagine anything Trump could do to capture my vote: I refuse to reward someone who played with the alternative right for that long and demonized so many people. A bully should not be in the White House, even if he started quoting Chomsky books and promised Ralph Nader a spot on his cabinet.

But I still feel it is important for progressives to stand up for market libertarians on many issues. Just the fact that so many of them are willing to repudiate racism, oppose giving away so much pork to corporations while the poor and middle-class are demonized for taking scraps, and

With that in mind, let’s look at Gary Johnson’s recent Aleppo gaffe. The fact is that Johnson has been unfairly castigated for this, in the context of the 2016 election.

For those who don’t know, Johnson on national TV admitted that he didn’t know what Aleppo, the besieged city in Syria which is one of the epicenters of the battle between the Assad regime (and their allies) and the Free Syrian Army, Islamic Front, People’s Defence Units and Sunni militants.  Specifically, he asked “What is Aleppo?”

Johnson’s Reaction Was Correct

In any other year, Johnson’s gaffe could be viewed as unforgivable. Romney, Obama and McCain all would have been unlikely to make such an error. Sure, Sarah Palin may have been completely misinformed about the most basic foreign policy issues, but she was essentially a bad running joke at the top of a ticket anyways. The war in Syria and everything having to do with ISIS is monstrously complex, but Aleppo has received so much coverage that Johnson should have been informed.

But this year, we have someone who makes up whatever he pleases about any issue. Sure, Trump has been roundly criticized in the press for many of these comments, and people like John Oliver and Stephen Colbert have decimated Trump repeatedly. And yet not only did it not stop his meteoric rise to being the Republican Presidential candidate, the media has not simply stated (thanks to their perverse obsession with balance over accuracy) that someone this misinformed should not have the job.

The most illustrative distinction to be made between Johnson and Trump is between Johnson asking “What is Aleppo?” and my oft-cited example of Trump with his answer to the question of which leg of the nuclear triad he would focus on the most as President.

Trump did not know what the nuclear triad is. The nuclear triad is even more elementary than Aleppo.

Johnson, when asked about something he wasn’t aware of, just asked.

Trump spoke gibberish for minutes on end.

And that’s why no honest person should vote Trump and every person with integrity who has conservative values should vote Johnson if they can’t stomach Stein or Clinton.

Ideally, we would elect someone who was perfectly virtuous, decent, charitable and kind, who also was tough enough to negotiate when the time came. They would be respected, informed on all issues, and able to synthesize complex ideas into simple messages to everyone in America.

But such a person would practically be an angel or a superhuman, and America was founded on the very basic idea that no government can be assumed to have angels in charge.

The fact is that we all have areas where we have an outright embarrassing lack of knowledge.

So what’s the correct response in such a situation?

To own up to that ignorance and just ask about what’s happening.

That’s what Gary did.

That’s what Trump didn’t do.

It couldn’t be more clear.

As a society, we have come to the point where we value someone ad-libbing with bluster instead of someone with integrity. We get angry at politicians for being dishonest then not only vote for incredibly dishonest politicians but repeatedly reward politicians for being dishonest rather than simply admitting ignorance.

Why Didn’t Johnson Know?

Look, Johnson’s lack of foreign policy experience is obviously a salient issue to this election. (You can pit that against Trump’s lack of any experience that is worth putting onto a resume).

But the fact is that there’s a very good reason why people like Johnson often don’t know global politics terribly well:

They don’t think we should be involved in the first place.

Johnson’s foreign policy is a relatively nuanced version of an isolationist position. He states that 65,000 Syrian refugees is not “our fair share”, that the U.S. should remain in the UN, and that the US has “more important domestic issues to worry about” than foreign involvement. He opposed being involved in stopping the genocide in the Sudan and he has said we should cease replacing “bad guys with slightly less bad guys”.

Now, I disagree with a lot of that. I think that generous humanitarian aid is a moral duty as well as a practical notion, that we should work with the UN in peacekeeping in areas like the Sudan, and that we do not replace bad guys with better guys but routinely replace decent guys with monsters.

Still, if I had to choose between Clinton, Johnson and Trump when it came to foreign policy, I’d choose Johnson in a second.

It’s perfectly consistent for Johnson to not know about an (admittedly-important) aspect of the Syrian civil war, because in his mind it’s a civil war and the US should not be involved at all.

The “Trump Is A Pussy” Line

I’ll admit that I also enjoy deeply that Johnson called Trump a “pussy”.

Yes, there’s arguably something sexist about the term “pussy”: it’s nominally derived from pusillanimous, but I would be willing to be that .01% of the people who ever use that term think of it that way, and that’s including a lot of language mavens who know the etymology.

But putting aside that serious concern, Trump is indeed a coward. Johnson is right to call out Trump’s blustering, overblown faux-machismo. And the language itself is sort of a master stroke: it’s the kind of childish, juvenile antics that Trump himself started.

Trump is not the alpha male. The people who believe he is are confusing big talk for big action. Johnson is right to point to Trump and say that he should take it outside if he’s going to keep on talking big.

The Dishonesty of the Media

The media’s reporting on this gaffe has therefore been pretty much across-the-spectrum dishonest.

Yes, Johnson clearly would need to get a lot of foreign policy knowledge into his head before he took office, even with his isolationist policy.

But Johnson did exactly what a human being with integrity and a concern for the truth should do when they are unaware of something important: just ask. Johnson showed even in the moment of making a mistake that he was better than Trump.

Instead, our media’s obsession with horse races and soundbites will elevate Johnson’s honesty over Trump’s perpetual deceit.

And that’s part of why Trump is perilously close to victory.

This article was written by Frederic Christie, a writer for dusk magazine. 

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About Fred B-C (28 Articles)
I'm a freelance hope warrior. While I am still figuring out exactly what that entails, I write novels and short stories, write for video games, design board games, do inspirational speaking and life coaching, and generally try to make the world just a little bit more pleasant. E-mails at frchristie@ucdavis.edu are always appreciated! (Yes, even trolling ones).

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