Trump’s War on Humanitarianism and Human Rights

President Donald Trump almost never uses the word “humanitarian.” Last week he came close to using it by referring to “humanity” when talking about chemical-based injuries in Syria and his decision to respond by bombing an airfield.

This week, Ivanka Trump made headlines by stating to NBC News: “I think there is a global humanitarian crisis that’s happening, and we have to come together and we have to solve it.” Unfortunately, an unnamed White House source said her statement was a “political misstep.” The most important implication of her statement is that she feels sympathy for Syrian refugees perhaps to the point of seeking to allow more of them to enter the United States, according to the New York Times.

Few politicians in the USA and other advanced economies used the word “humanitarian,” in their campaigning over the past several years. This undoubtedly reflects the belief of the electorates in these countries that humanitarianism is not a political priority.

The word “humanitarian” has come to mean “concern for human welfare” to the point of supporting philanthropic aid or other assistance. While “humanitarianism” would seem to be a central tenant of the Christian philosophy, many in predominately Christian nations have moved away from supporting humanitarian political positions.

A Pew Poll in 2014 found that half of the adults in the United States believe that “Government aid to the poor does more harm than good.” Furthermore, the ‘Next Gen’ in the 18-29 age group were even more likely to support this negative attitude toward humanitarian aid to the poor. This justifies the observation that humanitarianism is continuing to lose favor in the USA.

Proposed Trump Administration Budget

Donald Trump’s initial budget plan ignores suffering around the world by slashing funds for the UN and USAID. Its underlying philosophy is to shift most foreign aid to supporting national security by boosting military capacity.

Specifically, the Trump budget calls for cutting foreign aid and the State Department budgets by 29% or $11B. This slashing includes a 29% cut to UN peacekeeping and all other UN functions including refugee support.

According to, the Secretary-General of the United Nations pointed out that these large cuts to UN programs were self-defeating because spending on military activity to address terrorism will not be effective without investments in “conflict prevention, conflict resolution, countering violent extremism, peacekeeping, peace-building, sustainable and inclusive development, the enhancement and respect of human rights, and timely responses to humanitarian crises.”

An example of the self-defeating nature of the policy underlying the Trump budget is the current need for famine relief. Two years of drought across central Africa have affected 38 million people. According to the UN, the world is facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, with 20 million facing horrific starvation and famine in at least four countries. According to the World Food Program, people are already dying for lack of food, and funding for food is desperately needed already.

On April 28, 2017, the Director-General Jose Graziano da Silva of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) stated that “If nothing is done, some 20 million people could starve to death in the next six months…. Famine does not just kill people, it contributes to social instability and perpetuates a cycle of poverty and aid dependency that endures for decades.”

Fallout from any Global Rise in Nationalism

Not only does widespread famine produce atrocious suffering and painful death, but it also produces widespread radicalization, leading substantially to the rise of terrorism. It will also leave these famine-attacked nations unstable for years to come.

While the Trump administration argues that the USA contributes disproportionately to the UN budgets, the reality, according to the UN Secretariat is that the USA contribution is less than its relative economic output, compared to other nations. Thus, US decision-making appears to be founded in part on erroneous facts.

In terms of non-UN humanitarian assistance, the United States budget for the past 60 years has been proportionately quite low compared to other nations. Such low levels of relief spending are responsible for millions of people dying and suffering from famine and other crises. The proposed cutbacks in spending for foreign aid will produce even greater suffering and death in the coming months and years.

Scott Paul of Oxfam expressed grave concern that the global architecture for peace and stability will take a big hit. Humanitarians generally worry that as nationalist and populist movements gain ground across the globe, future lifesaving operations will be decimated.

Trump’s Assault on Human Rights

Human rights go hand in hand with humanitarianism; they are two sides of the same coin. Unfortunately, the implementation of each of these institutions often goes in different directions. Human rights workers seek violations of rights around the world and attempt to bring justice to victims of these violations.

In contrast, humanitarian workers globally attempt to bring at least temporary relief and hopefully long-term stability to those trapped in vulnerabilities resulting from lack of socio-economic development. Human rights work consists mainly of investigations and research, whereas humanitarian workers need skills in project management and implementation. Much more could be said about the differences between human rights and humanitarian workers, but both are grounded in human dignity.

Placing a high value on human dignity should be an integral part of any presidential platform in the United States. Human dignity consists of belief in human empowerment based upon respect of self and other human beings. Human dignity is what justifies equality, democracy, and freedom.

Up until the Trump era, it was hard to imagine a US President seriously devaluing human dignity. However, President Trump’s angry diatribes against specific judges, against immigrants, against nonwhite races, against women’s rights, against the LGBTW community, against free speech, and against freedom of the Muslim religion, all indicate a lack of respect for human dignity.

One of the most glaring revelations of President Trump’s ruthlessness has come from his high praise for some of the greatest violators of human rights in the world: Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey; Rodrio Duterti of Philippines; Kim Jong Un of North Korea; and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand. These leaders have jailed huge numbers of citizens without any due process. Duterti alone approved the slaughtering of 9,000 drug “dealers” without any trials.

Representatives of the United State for decades have championed human rights when negotiating with leaders of countries which ignore human rights, especially those that ruthlessly suppress freedom of speech.  Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has been downplaying human rights both within his Department as well as in U.S. foreign relations. In May of 2017, Tillerson announced that foreign policy negotiations would not be guided by human rights values. He claimed that such negotiations would get in the way of the United States agendas on national security and economic interests.

Supporters of Trump would argue that his alliances with autocrats were done to get better trade and security deals for the United States. But the fact that Trump never mentions human rights as a desirable goal suggests his view of humanity is negative and he believes that most nonconforming human beings need to be subjugated and incarcerated to maintain law and order in society.

The most serious tragedy of the Trump and Tillerson doctrine on human rights is that the United States will stand by in silence as Russia, China, Turkey and similar governments arrest, imprison, and even execute journalists for being critical of their government. Unfortunately, their doctrine could be a first step toward taking away freedom of press in the USA. Trump’s self-declared war on the press or “fake media,” as he repeatedly calls the press, suggests how much happier he would be without this pillar of democracy–freedom of speech.

Human Rights Watch HRW) at the end of Trump’s first 100 days, made a list of 100 specific events and White House actions that threaten the human rights of people both in the USA and abroad. Trump’s overall report card for promotion and preservation of human dignity should display a huge F for failure.

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