Dear President Trump,
It’s after 9pm and I’m just getting started with today’s letter so not sure how this is going to go, but I’m not incapacitated so tonight’s not the night I’m going to miss writing to you.
Early in the day I saw the HP piece about Obama’s Ethics Chief, Walter Shaub’s many-Tweet treatise on your copious and varied ethical transgressions. I was coasting along reading through them saying things like “yep, for sure” and “shit, forgot about that one” when I came across: “State Dept is setting up a commission to supplant human rights with “natural law.”” It was one of those ‘WTF’ moments because even though I didn’t know what “natural law” meant, I figured that neither you nor Pompeo have humanity’s best interest at heart and that this couldn’t possibly be a good thing. Plus, Shaub included it in his list of your ethical catastrophes, so there was that.
A cursory search turned up a lot of worried commentary about how this likely means you all want to go even more right-wing biblical and pull back even further on human rights protections for women and sexual minorities. The cynical part of me wondered (and still wonders) why you all are bothering with a commission – you’ve already made it clear that you could give a rat’s ass about the most basic human rights.
I spent over an hour looking stuff up about “natural law” to try to understand something useful about it. Although I gleaned from this that it’s a philosophy revolving around the idea that certain rights are “God given” or transcendent and that we all just have them because they are inherent to being human, I really wasn’t in the headspace to sort out all history and evolution of the ideas.
What was far more interesting and revealing, however, was going to the State Department’s Human Rights reports. I started with the preface to the most recent one (2018) and the opening sentence reminds us that “The United States was founded on the premise that all persons “are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness.”” I’m actually shocked to see the word “persons” but I suppose even you all realized that “men” wasn’t going to fly.
The rest of the paragraph and the next one go on to talk about how the Constitution secures or ensures these rights. Things seemed pretty reasonable and ok until I got to the first sentence of paragraph three, which says: “Those sovereign states with which we have the closest, most long-standing, and productive collaboration are those where the government generally respects human rights, including the freedoms of religion or belief, expression, peaceful assembly, and association and do not engage in gross violations of human rights such as extrajudicial killing, torture, and extended arbitrary detention.” Where do you think the problem with this statement is? Haven’t a clue? Well, it’s the word “generally.” What the hell – right? Right.
But it gets worse. Much worse. Here’s the first sentence of paragraph four: “The policy of this Administration is to engage with other governments, regardless of their record, if doing so will further U.S. interests.” Although not a surprise, it’s chilling to see it in writing and confirms my belief that you all are barbarous assholes. Full stop. Seriously, why are you and Pompeo bothering with the commission? You’ve already taken up with devils, how much further do you intend to go?
I wanted to see what the preface to the 2015 Human Rights report from the Obama administration looked like and as expected, it’s wildly different. Kerry calls out the year’s shocking human rights abuses and the weakening of institutions that have traditionally safeguarded human rights, with governments jailing reporters and closing NGOs that were promoting human rights. He notes the troubling trend of increasing numbers of elected leaders who “stifle opposition, circumvent the electoral process, and weaken judiciaries, often in an attempt to perpetuate their continued rule” (and this was pre-you). In closing he reaffirms the US’s “commitment to promoting and protecting universal human rights, to supporting and defending civil society in its peaceful efforts to hold governments accountable, and to working with our partners to advance peace, development, human rights, and democracy.” Although the issues he raised are mostly all scary, reading that final substantive sentence felt so reassuring and right until I remembered that we have lost this way of being in the world and it’s not at all clear when we will find our way back.
You will never review them because you are you, but it’s instructive to look at Tillerson’s (2016) and Sullivan’s (2017) prefaces. Starting with Tillerson – his was not nearly as thorough or sweeping as Kerry’s, but it didn’t have any of the language about engaging with other countries regardless of their human rights records and it affirms the US’s commitment to human rights: “Our values are our interests when it comes to human rights. The production of these reports underscores our commitment to freedom, democracy, and the human rights guaranteed to all individuals around the world.”
Sullivan went even further and called out Russia, China, and North Korea saying they “violate the human rights of those within their borders on a daily basis” and closing with: “Our foreign policy reflects who we are and promotes freedom as a matter of principle and interest. We seek to lead other nations by example in promoting just and effective governance based on the rule of law and respect for human rights. The United States will continue to support those around the world struggling for human dignity and liberty.”
Now I’m sure neither Tillerson nor Sullivan were angels, but we sure as hell took a dramatic turn towards evil when you added Pompeo to your cabinet of horrors. So truly, what more do you two have up your sleeves with your “natural laws” and “natural rights”? The stuff of nightmares, no doubt.
May we all be safe wherever and whoever we are.
May we all be free to pursue happiness, wherever and whoever we are.
May our institutions be healthy and strong and fair and just.
May we be inspired by integrity, respect for others, and peace.