AN OPEN LETTER TO DONALD JOHN TRUMP

Dear Mr. Trump,

What do Gonzalo Curiel, Andrew McCutchen, Hillary Clinton, Bishop Desmond Mpilo Tutu, Vicente Fox Quesada, Fidel Castro, Barack Obama and you and me have in common? That probably all of us are descended, just like all the other people on earth, from people who lived in Africa in the distant past. Viewed in this light we are all each other’s brothers and sisters. It’s one big family, one big human community but not so tightly and strongly connected as many of us would want.

In the course of history differences arose. These were all kinds of differences for instance in appearance, color, language, religion, culture, education, welfare and so on. And with these differences the contrasts arose: between poor and rich, religious and unbelieving, developed and underdeveloped and, at a very sad moment in history also between slave and master and between black and white. Those contrasts have left particularly deep traces in history. The consequences of this can still be seen today.

At various moments in history attempts have been made to protect people against the arbitrariness of others: for instance the Magna Carta of 1215 in England comes to mind. And time and again there have been people and movements that tried to take the intrinsic value and dignity of each individual person as a starting point (John Locke and his book Two Treatises of Government come to mind). After the horrors of the Second World War the General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This was unanimous.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) begins with a very fundamental establishment, namely that “recognition of the inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world “. But it was also laid down that each person has duties to society. The free and full development of every person’s personality is only possible through both rights and duties.

It is also fundamental that the Universal Declaration provides that everyone is entitled to all those rights and freedoms without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status (Art. 2 par. 1 UDHR). As soon as the government proposes a policy or legislation in which, with regard to the fundamental rights and freedoms, a distinction is made precisely on the basis of these criteria, there is reason for concern.

I will discuss with you several provisions from this Universal Declaration and on the basis of several recent examples from practice I will examine whether these provisions are sufficiently complied with.

For quite some time (some) politicians and social groups have been reacting fiercely to each other. Harsh and rude language is used. Personal attacks, threats and intimidation are commonplace. Any substantive arguments, if they are put forward at all, are lost in verbal violence. Therefore it is a good moment to call on everybody to behave according to the provisions laid down in Article 1 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Perhaps democracy should become a little more female. At the moment the political debate is dominated by macho culture. Personal attacks are more often the rule than the exception. Debates on substance are hardly if ever held. There are even politicians who state openly that they do not think what others have to say is relevant.

Due to the ‘First Amendment’ and the legal ‘immunity’ they enjoy on this basis, for some there is apparently no restraint whatsoever: they call people, countries and organizations criminal without any grounds and accuse hard-working people of trading in drugs or laundering money.

The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government, according to Article 21 par. 3 of the Universal Declaration. Politicians appeal to ‘the people’ all the time, particularly at unsuitable times, but is the voice of the people really heard? Democracy does not entail that you can do what you like with the argument just because you were elected. This attitude entirely ignores that a politician is selected to serve the people and not himself or those he chooses or those who paid handsomely to have him elected.

Everyone has duties to the community. Those duties entail certain limitations on the rights and freedoms granted by the Universal Declaration. These limitations do not go further than is necessary for securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and to meet the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society (Art. 29 par. 2 UDHR).

Those duties entail for example that, certainly as a politician, you deal with for instance the judiciary with due care. Comments about the ethnic background of a judge are inappropriate and show a lack of respect for the judiciary as such and for its role in the constitutional state.

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers (Art. 19 UDHR). This right also includes the freedom of the press. This means the freedom of journalists to be able to express criticism of political candidates or the government of their country for instance without being threatened. Critical journalists should not be treated as enemies.

Every human being benefits from objections (this also applies to those in power); every human being must allow criticism and should remain engaged in debate. If rulers cannot be contradicted they will become automatically corrupt as Montesquieu already indicated.

I conclude with a quote from chapter 24 of a translation of the book by Lao Zi entitled The book of the Tao and the inner force. The quote is about 2400 years old:

A bighead is not strong,
Flaunting does not make eminent.
Who wants to shine is not glorious.
Pretension is no merit.
Those who brag are therefore not good.

Truly yours,

Karel Frielink

(5 June 2016)

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Ps
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