Editor’s Note: David A. Love is a writer and commentator based in Philadelphia. He contributes to a number of publications, including Atlanta Black Star, WHYY and Al Jazeera. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidALove. The opinions expressed in this commentary are his. View more opinion articles on CNN.
The way in which America – for years a self-proclaimed role model for human rights – projects its values to the rest of the world has real, tangible effects on the global stage. In the age of Donald Trump, the US State Department has turned its back on the fight against racism and xenophobia. Even worse, the agency seeks to remove anti-racist language from international documents. The US government has a racism issue, and it is a dangerous problem with international implications.
In a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, six House Democrats said they are “extremely alarmed” the administration has remained silent regarding racism and xenophobia in international fora and has not condemned hate speech and incitement. They also noted that Andrew Veprek, the deputy assistant secretary for refugees and migration, rejected the notion that leaders have a “duty to condemn hate speech and incitement,” and, according to a report by CNN, Veprek sought changes to UN human rights documents that denounce racism as a threat to democracy.
“The drafters say ‘populism and nationalism’ as if these are dirty words,” Veprek wrote of one document. “There are millions of Americans who likely would describe themselves as adhering to these concepts. (Maybe even the President.) So are we looking to here condemn our fellow-citizens, those who pay our salaries?”
Further, Veprek took issue with language in a UN Human Rights Council resolution, which said national leaders have a duty to condemn hate speech. Veprek insisted that “‘duty to condemn’ goes too far. Our public figures can’t be obliged to police every intolerant thought out their (sic) at the risk of being condemned for intolerance themselves.”
“This is dangerous policy,” the lawmakers wrote to Pompeo. And they are right.
These members of Congress are justifiably angry over America’s retreat from world leadership under this President, and “his racist and xenophobic policies have slammed America’s door on some of the world’s most desperate people,” the Democrats wrote. “Ultimately, this latest blunder amplifies the increasingly widespread perception that some officials in the Trump administration are racist and support an anti-foreigner, anti-Muslim discriminatory agenda and further erodes our credibility on the world stage.”
However outrageous the actions, words and silence of the Trump White House on hate and intolerance, the current situation is by no means surprising.
Since President Trump once said that there were “some very fine people on both sides” when referring to violent white supremacists and Nazis marching with tiki torches in Charlottesville, Virginia, last year, why would he downplay racism on the world stage?
In his interview this past July with The Sun, a British tabloid, Trump decried immigration, saying that migrants have “changed the fabric of Europe.”
“And I don’t mean that in a positive way,” he said. “I think allowing millions and millions of people to come into Europe is very, very sad. I think you’re losing your culture. Look around. You go through certain areas that didn’t exist 10 or 15 years ago.”
Trump has turned his beliefs into policy. Although the President hasn’t released a statement about Veprek’s comments, the administration announced its withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council shortly after his proposed language changes.
And some of Trump’s current and former staff and advisers have been accused of neo-Nazi affiliations, Islamophobia and having ties to white nationalists and white supremacists. These people have the ear of the President and are shaping foreign policy and immigration policy.
Stephen Miller, a White House adviser, who is instrumental in immigration policy, played a part in the administration’s Muslim travel ban and separating undocumented migrant children and parents from each other. He is also involved in plans to limit citizenship for documented immigrants and strip immigrants of their citizenship.
Richard Grenell, US ambassador to Germany, faced calls for his expulsion for telling the alt-right, white nationalist website Breitbart that he wanted to “empower” anti-establishment conservatives in Europe.
Ronald Vitiello, acting director of US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), recently attended an annual conference of the anti-immigration group Federation for American Immigration Reform. At its conference this month, the anti-Muslim group ACT for America honored former ICE Director Thomas Homan.
In Trump, hard-right politicians around the world seem to have found a common ground and have become more emboldened with their own racist and xenophobic policies and rhetoric.
Russian President Vladimir Putin has cultivated ties with white nationalist politicians and groups in Europe and the United States. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is a Trump cheerleader who supports hardline anti-immigration policies. Conte’s interior minister has called for a census of the country’s Roma people, an ethnic group, in order to expel them.
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has found a friend in Trump, and has enacted anti-immigrant “Stop Soros” laws to criminalize anyone who helps an undocumented immigrant file an asylum claim. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz has called for an anti-migration axis with Germany and Italy.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has touted his country’s own wall on the southern border with Egypt to keep out African “illegal infiltrators,” who he said are worse than Sinai terrorists and threaten the livelihood of Israel’s Jewish majority. Netanyahu’s racist nation-state law declares self-determination for the Jewish people and encourages segregated communities, but omits any mention of equality and minority group rights.
Thanks to a government that has abdicated its leadership on the fight against hate, America’s positive role on the international stage is diminishing. How can the United States ever hope to combat racism in the world when its leader seems to be helping to spread it?