Oped: U.S. exit from Human Rights Council is hypocritical

Trudy Rubin
Tribune News Service

How ironic that the White House chose to withdraw from the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday just as President Trump was manipulating the suffering of migrant children for his own political ends.

The Trump team quit the council due to that body's fixation with Israel and inclusion of member states with wretched human rights records. Nikki Haley, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., called the council a "hypocritical and self-serving organization that makes a mockery of human rights."

But the U.S. decision to withdraw — rather than use the council as a forum to expose rights violators — reflects a White House that rejects America's historic role as a global defender of human rights. That, combined with Trump's policy of ripping migrant children away from their parents, makes the U.S. stance on the U.N. council look hypocritical. To borrow Haley's phrasing, the president's policies abroad and at home make a mockery of human rights.

Since World War II, U.S. presidents have balanced national security concerns and promotion of human rights abroad, with the former often displacing the latter. Yet even when necessity required close ties with tyrants, presidents since Ronald Reagan have made support for human rights part of their calculus, assuming more open regimes would be less threatening.

"The American people cannot close their eyes to abuses of human rights and injustice, whether they occur among friend or adversary or even on our own shores," Reagan stated in 1988.

Trump has consigned Reagan's principles to the trash.

Last week, Trump extolled Kim Jong Un as "smart," "honorable," and a man who "loves his people," even though the dictator imprisons tens of thousands of opponents in labor camps. When asked about the murder of Russian journalists on Vladimir Putin's watch, Trump snapped back, "Well, I think our country does plenty of killing."

Such talk does more than undermine U.S. pretensions at the U.N. It reveals a president who has openly rejected the universal values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and Bill of Rights.

Trump's abandonment of those principles has been on view since his inauguration. One need only cite the Muslim travel ban, the empowering of bigots in Charlottesville, and the constant efforts to whip up fears of a refugee "invasion" that will submerge his white base in an ocean of blacks and browns.

There was something especially egregious about denouncing the council while Trump was still refusing to reverse course on separating migrant families. By Wednesday, huge GOP and global pressure forced him to back down. But how can America pretend to stand for anything, when the U.S. president uses babies as leverage to get a border wall?

The images of crying toddlers on the border will linger for a long time.

— Trudy Rubin is a columnist and editorial-board member for the Philadelphia Inquirer.