The problem with having a U.S. president whose constant lies have eroded any moral or intellectual credibility he may have once been assumed to possess by virtue of his office is that when he does mouth words that reflect the values we once all believed we held in common — values enshrined in the Constitution, including freedom of speech and freedom of religious belief among others — they ring hollow and false no matter how much truth that the underlying words may hold.
Donald Trump addressed the UN this morning and with his limited oratorical skills did his best to read what should have been a stirring defense of religious freedom — had it been delivered by an American president who had the respect and admiration of other world leaders rather than being an international laughing stock.
In the monotone that he usually reserves for those times when he is forced to read what other people have placed in front of him, Trump called for an end to discrimination and oppression towards people on account of their religious beliefs.
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“Today with one clear voice, the United States of America calls upon the nations of the world to end religious persecution….to stop the crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion and belief, protect the vulnerable, the defenseless and the oppressed,” Trump read from the document before him.
“America stands with believers in every country who ask only for the freedom to live according to the faith that is within their own hearts. As president protecting religious freedom is one of my highest priorities and always has been,” he continued.
— CBS News (@CBSNews) September 23, 2019
Delivered by another U.S. president, the words would have been seen as a strong and influential challenge to those countries — including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Myanmar — where religious minorities are being persecuted and would have been backed up by our still-intact moral authority.
Instead, the likelihood of global heads of state and diplomats taking Trump’s words seriously was undermined not only by his notorious mendacity and instability but by the squandering of America’s moral leadership through Trump’s actual past actions.
Here, after all, is the man who upon taking office used one of his first executive orders to try to ban all travelers from a list of predominantly Muslim countries from entering the country and whose white nationalist sympathies violate the tenets of most major religions.
Trump’s dubious commitment to the words he uttered before the global assembly was made even more obvious when he departed from his carefully scripted address to adlib thanks to evangelical preacher Franklin Graham, who cloaks his bigotry towards Muslims and LGBTQ people in an interpretation of the Christian Bible that ignores Christ’s central message of “love thy neighbor.”
“I also want to thank Franklin Graham because he has been so instrumental in everything we are doing, such an incredible job in so many ways,” Trump said. “Floods and hurricanes and every time I go I see him and he’s always there before me.”
“I’m going to beat him one day but he is always at these places of really disaster areas. He is right there, incredible large staff of volunteers that are just amazing,” he added. “Thank you very much.”
Trump’s praise of a man who has condemned homosexuality as “an abomination” and supported conversion therapy to “cure” people of their sexual orientations, as well as describing Islam as “a religion of hatred….a religion of war,” demonstrates that the president’s support of religious freedom is most likely as transactional as every other relationship he enters into.
Trump’s lack of enthusiasm while speaking at the UN on this topic leads one to believe that, rather than emanating from his own deeply held principles, the president’s words were designed to appease his evangelical base for whom religious freedom is often reduced to the right to discriminate against anyone whose behavior or personal identities offend their sensibilities.
Someday, once the nation manages to oust Trump the Oval Office, another American president may be able to restore our nation’s moral authority and speak essentially the same words that the current president so unconvincingly presented with the believability and determination to back them up. It will be a long and difficult road to re-attain that position of respect, but the journey can’t begin soon enough.
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Original reporting by David Edwards at RawStory.