More than a year into the Trump administration, it is obvious that the White House has little interest in using the bully pulpit or U.S. economic clout to promote democracy and human rights around the world. With a few exceptions, such as Venezuela, Iran, Cambodia and Cuba, the administration rarely speaks about human rights abuses in other countries. As president, Donald Trump has held meetings with autocratic leaders whom the Obama administration refused to invite to the White House, like Thai junta leader Prayuth Chan-ocha and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. Trump has also praised some foreign leaders’ abuses of the rule of law, most notoriously Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s vigilante war on drugs.
What’s more, the budget that the White House submitted for the 2019 fiscal year aims to drastically slash funding for the National Endowment for Democracy and other democracy promotion programs. It would cut funding overall for democracy and human rights promotion by 40 percent and seemingly try to reduce the power of the National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute. Congress, though, is unlikely to approve these drastic cuts.
The White House still has not appointed an assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor. And the recently axed secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, avoided personally presenting the State Department’s annual report on human rights, a tradition previous secretaries usually upheld.