President Trump, a reality TV personality, is always conscious of optics, of how things look and how one vision can obscure another. Visuals of this past week were good.

The success of shoe-horning Judge Kavanaugh on to the Supreme Court despite questions of temperament and dishonesty have helped Trump solidify support with evangelical Christians. The freeing of hostage Andrew Brunson, an evangelical Christian pastor from a Turkish prison, gives Trump more reason to be confident of the votes of evangelicals, so necessary for this coming election.

He barely interrupted his busy campaigning to visit the immediate disaster from Hurricane Michael. The future disasters predicted by the UN report on Climate change, the tipping point in 2030 of irreversible planetary damage, were eclipsed by that picture of Pastor Brunson praying over Trump in the oval office. While he ignored the 5 per cent drop in the stock market, having previously claimed responsibility for its rise he didn't forget to ask Mrs Brunson if she had voted for him. She had.

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One blemish to the picture of Trump's apparently successful power-play with Turkey, a Nato ally, is the disappearance and purported murder of Jamal Khashoggi, an American resident and journalist for the Washington Post on orders of the Saudi Arabian government. Khashoggi, a Saudi citizen is/was a respected journalist, a critic of the present Saudi strongman, Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

His fiancee, Hatice Cengiz, waited outside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul while Khashoggi went in to obtain papers necessary for their marriage. Surveillance footage shows his entering on October 2, but he never came out. Turkey claims it has evidence of Khashoggi's torture, murder and dismemberment.

Trump's response has been to await proof, threaten serious consequences if proven, but also to state clearly that he will not cancel the $110 billion arms deal with Saudis that many in Congress, including Republicans, oppose.

There's a back story to the picture of Rev. Brunson's sudden-seeming release just weeks before the election.

After a failed coup in 2016, the Erdogan government jailed 50,000 people, among them Brunson. Brunson had been living and working in Turkey for 23 years. At least four other Americans were jailed as well, including a Turkish-American chemistry professor from Pennsylvania and Serkan Golge, 37, a Nasa scientist of Turkish descent, who was vacationing there when arrested.

The contention is that President Recep Erdogan was using these detainees, whom his courts swiftly convicted of terrorism charges, as bargaining chips, in order to force the US to extradite Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen from Pennsylvania where he lives in exile.
Erdogan contends that Gulen, a former ally, was behind the 2016 coup, but the US had not responded to extradition requests.

Brunson became a cause celebre sharing a religious faith with Vice-President Pence. It was Pence who, in Trump's stead, threatened Turkey, a Nato ally, with consequences if Brunson were not released despite a three-year sentence. Sanctions followed in July which hit the Turkish economy hard.

It may be simply fortuitous that Turkey's court decided to release Brunson just three weeks before the midterm elections, but sceptics may cite past electoral chicanery. There's precedent from other elections. It's been well established that then candidate Richard Nixon threw a spanner in the works of President Johnson's Paris peace talks just before the 1968 elections, and, in 1980, Ronald Reagan's campaign chairman arranged a deal with Iran that resulted in delayed release of American hostages until the day of Reagan's inauguration.


We don't know if there was a quid pro quo around Brunson's release. We do know that several Americans still sit in Turkish prisons. Trump, who has admired strongmen around the globe, is not as interested in human rights as he is in power. That he is thoroughly transactional is clear from use of financial pressure on an ally, Turkey, on behalf of an evangelical Christian, while valuing the life of a Saudi Muslim journalist at $110 billion.

If I were Fethullah Gulen I might not sleep so easily in Pennsylvania.

Jay Kuten is an American-trained forensic psychiatrist who emigrated to New Zealand for the fly fishing. He spent 40 years comforting the afflicted and intends to spend the rest afflicting the comfortable.