July 19, 2018 at 3:00 pm EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
US no longer stands for human rights around the world

The American flag flies over the U.S. Embassy in San Salvador, El Salvador, on July 13, 2018. President Trump earlier this year reportedly described El Salvador as a “shithole country.” (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

MEXICO CITY — President Trump’s defense of Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday after their summit in Helsinki was yet another moment when I felt embarrassed for my country while on assignment outside the U.S. This ridiculous spectacle also proved once and for all the U.S. under this administration cannot claim with any credibility that it stands for human rights around the world.

Here are some other recent examples.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — who previously described homosexuality as a “perversion” — last month in his Pride month statement said all people, including members of the LGBTI community, “must be free to enjoy their human rights and fundamental freedoms, including freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association without fear of reprisal.” This statement is absolutely meaningless when Trump defends Putin, who has targeted LGBTI Russians and has not publicly condemned the anti-gay crackdown in Chechnya.

State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, who is a former Fox News host, on July 12 issued a statement that honored the legacy of Natalya Estemirova and Paul Klebnikov, two journalists who were killed in Russia in 2009 and 2004 respectively. This statement is absolutely meaningless when Trump continues to accuse journalists of reporting “fake news” and has described the media as “the enemy of the American people.” It is also an insult to my colleagues in Cuba and elsewhere who are harassed and/or arrested for simply doing their jobs.

Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Francisco Palmieri continues to criticize Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega over the brutal crackdown against opposition protesters that has left upwards of 300 people dead since April. These statements are absolutely meaningless when Trump publicly fawns over North Korea’s Kim Jung-un and other world leaders who have carried out serious human rights abuses against their own people.

The Family Research Council and other anti-LGBTI organizations continue to support Trump. Their platitudes about morality and the “sanctity of life” are absolutely meaningless when the White House’s “zero tolerance” immigration policy has separated migrant children from their parents who are, in many cases, fleeing unspeakable violence in Central America. These platitudes are also absolutely meaningless when Trump’s response to Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico last September included throwing rolls of paper towels to people at a church as though they were nothing more than animals at the zoo.

Many structures in La Perla neighborhood of San Juan, Puerto Rico, still had temporary roofs — “techos azules” in Spanish — nearly eight months after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. commonwealth. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

I was on assignment in Chile last fall when Trump criticized San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz. I described Trump in an op-ed as “a morally bankrupt man with no sense of basic dignity or compassion.” I also wrote that I am “increasingly ashamed to identify myself as an American while this man occupies the White House.”

I felt the same way on Monday in Mexico City when I watched Trump defend Putin.

American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is a beacon of hope to those around the world who suffer persecution. American exceptionalism, however flawed, teaches us the U.S. is the land of opportunity where people can build a better life for themselves and for their families.

Trump has turned his back on these ideals. He has also proven himself to be a danger not only to his country, but to the world as a whole.

Americans of good faith — those who defend human rights and basic decency — must stand up to Trump and say, “no more” if the U.S. has any chance of regaining its moral high ground. The world is watching.

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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