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Donald Trump and the New Isolationism

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President Trump kicked off the 74th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York by providing the world with another example of how far American influence has waned.

When Trump declined to attend an emergency climate meeting at the Group of 7 Summit in Biarritz last month, world leaders and NGOs gasped. When Trump bailed again, this time walking out of Monday’s U.N. Climate Summit after just 10 minutes, the news only merited a sigh. Faced with an unreliable partner in Trump’s United States, the rest of the developed world is determined to move on without us.

Trump’s effort to withdraw the United States from the world stage isn’t new, and climate change is only the most recent victim of America’s New Isolationism. Since 2017 Trump and his secretaries of state have systematically decoupled American leadership abroad from fundamental American values.

In May 2017, then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson jettisoned international human rights as a foreign policy anchor. In a speech to State Department employees, Tillerson argued that holding a firm line against human rights abuses ‘creates obstacles’ for advancing our national interests.

Then, of course, came the “Muslim ban,” a concerted effort by Trump to enforce his personal brand of religious bigotry. After repeated defeats in the courts, a modified version of the ban survives today, mocking the once-vaunted American principle of religious tolerance.

In June 2019, human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Campaign signed a joint letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemning the State Department’s lack of support for LGBTQI persons abroad.

Pompeo has done more than just relegate LGBTQI issues to the margins of State Department memos. Under the auspices of a new “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” Pompeo and a cabal of anti-gay crusaders seek to further roll back recognition of LGBTQI rights abroad. The Commission threatens to undo years of hard-fought global progress by once again putting the rights of the marginalized up for revision.

It’s ironic that Trump, whose enduring legacy includes several attempts to, in effect, ban an entire faith from entry into the United States, cut short his time at the Climate Summit to give a speech about protecting religious freedom.

“Today, with one clear voice,” Trump said, “the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution.” With his Muslim Ban still largely in effect, Trump’s statement of solidarity went largely ignored.

Speeches on religious freedom may motivate the evangelical Christian voters who make up a large chunk of Trump’s base. But it’s difficult to defend religious freedoms abroad after abandoning human rights as a government priority.

What Trump either fails to realize or doesn’t care about is the fact that foreign policy is much more than a few public performances at the United Nations. Foreign policy is a statement of values, enforced by over 8,000 Foreign Service Officers inspired to serve their country abroad. Even there – especially there – Trump’s value-free foreign policy harms our national interest.

Morale is at an all-time low in the State Department, where high-level, public resignations are filled sharp criticisms of both Pompeo and Trump. Massive cuts in foreign aid may hobble a Foreign Service already depleted by deep cuts during Tillerson’s disastrous tenure. Under Tillerson, 12 percent of career FSOs were gone in just eight months.

Younger Americans, who make up the bulk of new FSOs, are thinking twice about signing on to defend an administration capable of Muslim bans, family separation immigration policies and suspect dealings with governments like Ukraine. They recoil at the idea of denying climate change science on threat of a potentially public and nasty firing.

Most of all, those young potential FSOs struggle to be inspired by an America that has grown more isolated and petulant under three years of New Isolationism. Why would anyone work to advance the nihilistic international designs of a president who walks away from international calls for American leadership?

Trump’s boredom with international policy should sadden and concern policymakers interested in preserving and expanding American influence abroad. China, enticed since 2017 by Trump’s weakness on climate change, has positioned itself as a growing climate leader. While America has been sitting still, The Economist reports, China has been making strides not only in policy but also in gathering the influence Trump left at the table.

The world is in need of a great power with good values to see us through a time of generational crisis. It’s a shame Donald Trump can’t rise to the moment.

Max Burns is a veteran Democratic strategist and senior contributor at Millennial Politics. He regularly makes appearances on Fox News, Fox Business and Bloomberg Radio. Follow him on Twitter @TheMaxBurns.


Tags amnesty international China Donald Trump Foreign Service G7 summit isolationism Mike Pompeo Mike Pompeo Muslim ban Rex Tillerson United Nations United Nations General Assembly

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