Donald Trump is not particularly interested in using the power and influence of the United States to defend human rights. This presidential shortcoming has been well illustrated in his enthusiastic embrace of strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz, and through the empty words of businessman-in-chief speeches that offer autocrats “partnership, based on shared interests and values.”
But presidents sometimes address their weaknesses by selecting advisers and cabinet members who can serve as the “adults in the room.”
Unfortunately, Trump’s “adults” are often as shockingly wrongheaded and out of touch as he is—especially when it comes to human-rights issues.
Witness the remarkable CNBC interview that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross gave on Monday.
Earlier this year, some speculated that the 79-year-old billionaire might bring at least a small measure of wisdom to the cabinet table. He sent politically moderate signals and enjoyed a relatively easy confirmation process. (The Senate approved his nomination by a 72-27 vote in late February, despite the troubling questions about Ross and the Bank of Cyprus, an institution he served as vice chairman that has links to Russia. Since then, a group of Democratic senators has continued to press for answers. Here’s a link to one of their letters: “Booker, Markey, Blumenthal, Udall, Baldwin Urge Secretary Ross to Respond to Unanswered Questions on Russian Banking Ties.”)
Last week, Ross joined President Trump on his trip to Saudi Arabia, and the secretary liked what he saw. A lot.
Though Ross was photographed nodding off during Trump’s speech in Riyadh, the commerce secretary was all bubbly about the presidential visit to the Middle Eastern monarchy. “[The] thing that was fascinating to me was there was not a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there,” Ross told a global audience on CNBC. “Not one guy with a bad placard…”