A Brutally Brief Recap of Key US Conflicts with Human Rights Since 2016

Written by Sophie Crawford

Edited by Laurence Campanella

Mother Jones Illustration: Getty Images.

The Administration that Delegitimized U.S. Humanitarian Integrity

The United States’ presidential election is just around the corner. Some will be watching with excitement, others with fear. Either way, Trump will be the first president in American history to run for re-election despite being formally impeached by Congress.[i] With the Trump administration’s four year term coming to an end, there has been no shortage of politically charged social media feuds or content for SNL.

Incidentally, this has also been a discouraging time for human rights activists representing the U.S.[ii] Since 2016, scandals and allegations have been abundant, whilst critics and opposition against the incumbent government and its inner circle of confidants have been a-plenty. Beyond American borders, however, the world has also been subject to varying degrees of the Trump Effect[iii], despite being unable to act as anything more than mere observers. Over the past four years, the United States has regressed on the human rights spectrum.[iv][v] Let us recap some of the human rights violations that have transpired thus far.

Hate Speech?

As the world’s designated superpower, contemporary U.S. domestic and international policy has disappointed human rights movements worldwide by operating in ways that encourage the obstruction of once firmly established American values. Trump’s divisive political rhetoric has influenced a variety of onlooking states who have begun to adopt his rhetorical style and general lack of humanitarian consideration.[vi] He has set a precedent which has normalized hate speech. In neighbouring Canada, for example, hate speech rose by 600% in the time since Trump’s inauguration, resulting in a social desensitization to once radical hashtags such as #banmuslims, #siegheil, #whitegenocide, and #whitepower.[vii] The rise of racial, religious and ethnic intolerance is suggested to have a correlation with the current administration’s championing of acrimonious slogans like Build the Wall.

Divisive discourse has a history of becoming dangerously politicized in North America. Trump’s discourse re-instills memories of post-9/11 strategies that created an imagined enemy out of Arabs and the Middle East.[viii] Trump’s Republican party and its supporters have successfully dehumanized a new group of people, only this time it is Mexicans. Consensus suggests that when a once privileged group’s status becomes threatened, that group’s politics can become reactionary. Whatever the motives may be, Trump’s rhetoric, combined with the harmfully negative  connotations that he associates with Mexicans, directly mirror Edward Saïd’s conceptualization of Othering.[ix] Trump has led to the re-emergence of a culture which explicitly denounces democratic values and the fundamentals of human rights. All this talk, however, has been a conversation between those who are privileged enough to have a voice, rather than those who are experiencing the impacts of growing intolerance first-hand.

Asylum Seekers?

As a humanitarian crisis knocks at the U.S.-Mexican border’s doorstep, The American government refuses to respect its international obligation to aid asylum seekers. Trump’s administration has been dedicated to restricting the number of migrants applicable for asylum, as well as simultaneously limiting those who qualify and where they can wait—with an average wait time of two years.[x]. In 2018, an administrative decision by former Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, restricted the criteria for asylum seekers to apply to only those fleeing persecution by state actors[xi]. By claiming that “the asylum statute does not provide redress for all misfortune,” the administration is ignoring the reality that asylum seeking often includes victims of domestic and gang violence, not just those facing state persecution. By 2019, under the Remain in Mexico program, over 55,000 asylum seekers were sent back to Mexico without fair hearings, and less than 1% of those that qualified for asylum were admitted. Let us neither forget the devasting effects of the zero tolerance immigration policy, as the US forcibly separated more than 2,500 families at the border, traumatically leaving thousands of children under the supervision of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. [xii] As a nation that severely criticizes and even invades countries in the name of humanity, the United States has hypocritically demonstrated its willingness to sacrifice human rights for political gain and its privileged groups.[xiii]

Stay Tuned!

This article only scratches the surface of the human rights violations that have characterized Trump’s four-year term. Let us end with some additional headlining violations that have come to pass. As the November election approaches, let us remember the notable departures of Matti; the Comey and Flynn scandal; the significant environmental policy setbacks; the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh, an alleged sexual predator, to the highest legal position in the country; the willfully blind sacrifice of lives to both Iranian and the American civilians, with hazardously aggressive and transgressive foreign policies; the undiplomatic nature of America First unilateral policies; and the selling billions of dollars worth of arms to Saudi Arabia. Surely, there is a lot at stake this coming fall.


[i] n.n. “Donald Trump becomes the first impeached president to run for re-election.” The Economist, Dec 19th 2019. https://www.economist.com/united-states/2019/12/19/donald-trump-becomes-the-first-impeached-president-to-run-for-re-election

[ii] n.n. “United States: Events of 2018.” Human Rights Watch, June 12, 2018. https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/united-states

[iii] Luqman, Maali. “The Trump Effect: Impacts of Political Rhetoric on Minorities and America’s Image.” Harvard Library, 2018. https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/42004012

[iv]  n.n. “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 2019.” Amnesty International, 2019. https://www.amnesty.org/en/countries/americas/united-states-of-america/report-united-states-of-america/

[v] n.n. “United States: Events of 2018.” Human Rights Watch, June 12, 2018.
https://www.hrw.org/world-report/2019/country-chapters/united-states

[vi] Hassan, Adeel. “Hate-Crime Violence Hits 16-Year High, F.B.I. Reports.” The New York Times, Nov. 12, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/12/us/hate-crimes-fbi-report.html

[vii] Tomilson, Asha. “The Trump effect in Canada: Testing how we react to racism and intolerance.” CBC Marketplace, January 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBHK4WWDdq4

[viii] Luqman, Maali. “The Trump Effect: Impacts of Political Rhetoric on Minorities and America’s Image.” Harvard Library, 2018. https://dash.harvard.edu/handle/1/42004012

[ix] Powell, John. “Us vs them: the sinister techniques of ‘Othering’ – and how to avoid them.” The Guardian, November, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/inequality/2017/nov/08/us-vs-them-the-sinister-techniques-of-othering-and-how-to-avoid-them

[x] Kanno-Young, Zolan, Dickerson, Caitlin. “Asylum Seekers Face New Restraints Under Latest Trump Orders.” The New York Times, April, 2019. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/29/us/politics/trump-asylum.html?searchResultPosition=1

[xi] Kanno-Young, Zolan, Dickerson, Caitlin. “Asylum Seekers Face New Restraints Under Latest Trump Orders.” The New York Times, April, 2019.

[xii] n.n. “United States: Events of 2018.” Human Rights Watch, June 12, 2018.

[xiii] n.n. “UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: 2019.” Amnesty International, 2019.

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