This month, Politico published an excerpt from the tell-all memoirs of Mark Esper, who served as Trump’s secretary of defense from mid-2019 onward.
Among the revelations that have gotten the most attention — in addition to Trump’s wanting military personnel to shoot Black Lives Matter protesters in the legsexpressing an interest in court-martialing ex-generals who disagreed with his policy stances — was that of Trump repeatedly averring his desire to shut all of the U.S. embassies in AfricaYou should also bring the diplomatic staff back to the United States.
This is so absurdistic that it can be dismissed at face value. Of course a profit-and-power-oriented superpower like the United States would never simply remove all of its diplomatic personnel from an entire continent — one that contains 54 countries1.4 billion people and vast natural resource over which trade partners from all over the globe are jockeying to gain access. These statements were simply Trump being Trump, and he was merely blaming others for not understanding a portion of the world.
In reality, such a proposal wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of passing muster with the State Department, the Department of Defense, the national security agencies, Congress, not to mention the great resource-extraction companies — all of which are at least partly motivated by crass logics of self-interest, and all of whom would instantly see the harm such an unprecedented move would entail. These institutions won’t tolerate any act diplomatic vandalism that would significantly weaken the U.S. and U.S. corporations in relation to geopolitical competition.
But Trump’s uncontrolled speaking-from-the-id remarks are worth noting because they tell a larger truth about his narrow, bigoted, worldview and the degree of his racist disrespect for anyone in the world who is not both white and wealthy. They are more than just a glimpse at how dangerous, inept and cruel a Trump administration-redux could be for the world.
Trump isn’t the first U.S. President to ignore the entire continent. Ronald Reagan Lyndon Johnson both traveled widely, but didn’t set foot in a single African country. Similar to the president. Trump visited two dozen countries while in office, but not one of them was in Africa.He did not spend much time in Caribbean. He appears to have avoided majority-Black countries.
Yet Trump’s disinterest in the world beyond the U.S.’s borders seems far more engrained than that of other post-World War II presidents, even others who, like Trump, were extremely limited in their travel itineraries. According to the AtlanticTrump traveled to foreign countries less frequently and more extensively than almost all his post-war predecessors. Trump traveled abroad less often and more extensively than his post-war predecessors. Was He was often at odds with international leaders abroad and often got into a fight. NATO summits, G7 meetings, and other international gatherings,He expressed his desire to travel elsewhere and was open about it. Most of his trips lasted one or at most two days — enough time to have a state dinner and engage in some photo ops, but not enough time to even begin to have meaningful exchanges with people in the country he was ostensibly visiting.
Contrast it with Eisenhower’s 11-nation “Flight to Peace” tour in December 1959; or with Barack Obama visiting 58 countries in his eight years in office. Twenty-one of those were in his first year as president. It’s pretty much impossible to imagine Trump doing the sort of traveling that these two presidents did. Obama visited South Africa, Senegal and Tanzania, among other African countries, and made it a point to speak to ordinary people as long as he could. That doesn’t mean all of the policies that Obama directed at Africa were progressive — witness the ongoing military and drone actions in Libya, Somalia, and elsewhere, and the foreign policy failures that triggered a resurrection of the slave trade in Libya — but it does show a president willing to at least listen to, and hopefully learn from, people from different walks of life living far from Washington, D.C.
From the get-go, Trump made clear that he viewed much of the world — and especially non-white, poorer parts of the world — with contempt. His notorious “travel bans,” designed to prevent Muslims from entering the country, disproportionately impacted African countries, although they did also target a handful of Middle Eastern and Asian countries. By the time Trump left office, the ban impacted a total of 13 countriesSeven of these were in Africa. The original list included Libya, Somalia, Chad, and Eritrea. In 2021, Nigeria, Eritrea and Sudan were added to the list.
The 2021 revision was a symbolic addition considering that global travel, migration, and migration in the first years of the COVID-19 epidemic had largely stalled. However, it was clearly intended as a way to show Trump, who was publicly pledging immigration to the U.S.A from predominantly white countries like the United States. Norway, and opposing migration from the southern hemisphere, was intent on further tightening the U.S.’s borders, over the long term, against immigration from countries he had previously deemed to be “shitholes.”In early 2018, this comment sparked global outrage and led to the African Union to demand an apology — one that was, it goes without saying, not forthcoming.
This should not have come as a surprise. Trump has a long record of disparaging majority Black nations and Black individuals. Six months into Trump’s presidency in 2017, he reputedly declared that all immigrants from Haiti have AIDS. Trump was referred to by his former adviser. frequently uttered anti-Black slursDuring his time as a TV Star Celebrity Apprentice. He took out a loan in 1989, when he was most well-known as a New York-based real estate mogul. full-page ad in the New York Times calling for the death penalty against five young Black and Latino men wrongly accused of raping a Central Park jogger. Trump continued to proclaim their guilt, even though the men were exonerated decades later. And Trump’s businesses have also been caught up in allegations of racism — from lawsuits against Fred Trump (Donald’s father) and Donald Trump, alleging violations of the Fair Housing Act in their rental properties in the 1970s, through to allegations that Trump hotels and casinos discriminated against Black customers and Black employees into the 1990s.
Esper ought to have gone public with his allegations about Trump wanting to walk the U.S.’s diplomatic presence off of the African continent years ago, while he was still in office. At this point, it’s a bit late in the day to have a Road to Damascus moment and suddenly proclaim, in an effort to hype one’s book, one’s alarm about the degree to which Trump’s racism made him an “irrationalist” poised to sabotage the geopolitical power of his own nation.
But that doesn’t make the allegations any less shocking. It’s simply terrifying that this man, who holds a cult-leader-like death grip over the modern Republican Party, could quite conceivably return to power in the next election, emboldened even further to implement his fever-dreams of racial hate.