In this Episode:
Government leaders worldwide met the election of President-Elect Joe Biden with a collective sigh of relief. But while many celebrate Biden’s win, many still wonder if the possibility of another presidency that devalues global treaties and relationships related to protecting global health, the environment, and stemming nuclear proliferation is in America’s future.
How is the U.S. viewed abroad? What are the opportunities and challenges ahead for the next administration? Where are the biggest tensions in U.S. foreign relationships and diplomacy? Does the U.S. have an international legitimacy problem? The world has witnessed amazing leadership from women in other nations, especially during COVID—so what can the U.S. learn from that?
Have something to share? Drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- “What Women Can Expect from a Biden Presidency: On Global Women’s Rights,” Carrie Baker and Isabel Fields, Ms. Magazine, December 9, 2020.
- “From Sweden to Mexico, Foreign Policy Goes Feminist. Is the U.S. Next?” Lyric Thompson, Ms. Magazine, May 5 2020.
00:00:00 Michele Goodwin:
Welcome to “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” at Ms. Magazine, a show where we report, rebel and tell it like it is. On this show we center your concerns about rebuilding our nation and advancing the promise of equality. Join me as we tackle the most compelling issues of our times.
On our show history matters. We examine the past as we pivot to the future. Now, on today’s show we focus on the question how does the US rebuild global relationships? The election of President-Elect Joseph Biden was met with a collective sigh of relief from leaders around the world, yet while many world leaders acknowledge and celebration Biden’s win, they’re left wondering if the possibility of another presidency that disvalues the global treaties and relationships related to protecting health, the environment, and stemming nuclear proliferation are in America’s future.
So on this episode we ask our guests, how is the US currently viewed abroad? What are the opportunities and challenges ahead for the next administration? Does the US have an international legitimacy problem, and the world has witnessed amazing leadership from women in other nations, especially during COVID. What can the US learn from that? Now helping us to sort out these questions and how we should think about these issues and more, our very special guests.
I’m joined by Penelope Andrews. She is president of the Law and Society Association, and a professor of law at New York Law School where she co-directs their Racial Justice Project. Professor Andrews is a trainer for the Judicial Institute for Africa, and has served as an acting judge for the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria, and as an arbitrator in hearings on racial discrimination in South Africa. From 2016 through 2018 Professor Andrews served as the first Black dean at the University of Cape Town, Faculty of Law.
I’m also joined by David Kaye. He is the former United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and the independent board chair of the Global Network Initiative. He is the author of Speech Police: The Global Struggle to Govern the Internet, and a Professor of Law at the University of California Irvine.
I’m also joined by Professor Gregory Shaffer. He is the chancellor’s professor of law at the University of California Irvine, and Director of the UCI Center on Globalization Law and Society. He is former vice president of the American Society of International Law and a member of the Board of Editors of the American Journal of International Law, the Journal of International Economic Law, and Transnational Environmental Law. Professor Shaffer is among the world’s leading scholars on international economic law and the World Trade Organization. He has a book coming out in 2021 called Emerging Powers and the World Trading System.
Finally, I’m joined by Lyric Thompson. She is the senior director of Policy and Advocacy at the International Center for Research on Women. Lyric leads the Institution’s formulation of evidence-based policy recommendations and oversees her organization’s advocacy efforts with the US government and also internationally. She is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations Advisory Committee on advancing gender equality in foreign affairs, and a member of the Civil Society Strategic Planning and Leadership Group for the Global Forum for Gender Equality.
Thank you all for joining us to discuss these very sensitive and often overlooked matters. So, let’s start with a more general question and open it up. What do you see as the most significant obstacles to the United States rebuilding trust and strong relationships with our allies abroad? And why don’t we start with you, Lyric?
00:04:33 Lyric Thompson:
Well, I think particularly on my issues, I am particularly focused on global women’s rights and gender equality issues. I think it’s fair to say that we’re at a real nadir in that regard. So I think the challenge is just being able to rebuild all of those relationships, rescind the global gag rule which under this administration was 16 times larger because it applied to all health assistance as opposed to in previous Republican administrations. It had applied to the Family Planning Health Assistance.
They’ve also, you know, withdrawn from the Human Rights Council, all, you name it, you name a…
00:05:19 Michele Goodwin:
It’s been a hot mess in other words.
00:05:21 Lyric Thompson:
Exactly. That being said I think there’s real optimism from our allies that we will return to a place of cooperation, if not leadership. I think the question, what leadership looks like in this day and age is very different than it was four years ago. And so, in terms of the key challenge, it’s mapping all the things that got broken, fixing them, and then still having some space to imagine and build back better, if you will.
And that is where we’re doing some interesting work on feminist foreign policy that I’d love to talk to you about because I think it’ll take that kind of bold vision to really clearly send a signal that we’re not just trying to go back to four years ago, but really to imagine a new and better world post pandemic for everyone.
00:06:08 Michele Goodwin:
On that note I want to turn to you, David. You’re the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, and over the last few years as you’ve been in that position we’ve seen the intensification of threats against journalists. There was the assassination in 2018 of Jamal Khashoggi.
In the United States there have been journalists threatened, including at their homes, and even though these issues are global they’ve intensified in a particular kind of way in the United States which really undermined domestically how we understand a constitutional democracy. So from a lane in which you know perhaps better than anyone else, what does the United States need to do in order to rebuild its reputation globally as we think about the promotion and protection of a right of freedom of opinion and expression?
00:06:56 David Kaye:
Right. Right. And Jamal Khashoggi was an American resident. I mean he was a resident of the United States. So, I agree with Lyric’s point that there’s sort of two phases here in a way or two steps. I mean one step is re-engagement with the international community. There’s no question that that has to start, and it has to start on the basis of good faith, and it has to start, and this may be the second part…it has to go beyond just treating human rights or any other, you know, framework of engagement as just what others are doing out there.
It also has to be…and I think others will be looking to this. In order for the United States to re-engage in the Human Rights Council or in other bodies where human rights are pretty central, or protection of journalists, or you name it, I think the United States is going to have to demonstrate domestically that it actually takes seriously the things that it, you know, has historically lectured others to do, so that has to do clearly with issues around gender.
I think it absolutely has to do with things around race, and on race in particular, you know one of the kind of the anchors for the US refusal to engage in the international community on human rights has been a kind of segregationist…historically segregationist approach and racist approach to the way we see the world.
And so, I think there are things that we have to do internationally to engage, but we’ll be in a much better position if we actually change some things and the way we do things domestically as well.
00:08:41 Michele Goodwin:
So, I’d like to turn to you, Dean Andrews, Professor Andrews, Judge Andrews. You’ve worn so many different hats and you’ve worn them globally, so you’re able to come at this question from an internal and also an external perspective. What do you see as some of the obstacles that the United States has in terms of rebuilding its reputation abroad?
00:09:07 Penelope Andrews:
You know, I see lots of possibilities and I may be unduly optimistic in light of the election. I think the obstacles in addition to what, you know, we’ve just heard, I think the one is if the United States really fails to move towards a situation of global partnerships and global collaboration. I mean this America First has been such a hallmark of the last four years and I think it’s very, very important that that obstacle has to be removed and the United States sees itself as a partner among equals. So, I think the sense of collaboration and so on needs to be reinstituted and reintroduced as part of global cooperation.
I think that what has also been said is that it’s important for the United States to embed the commitment to racial justice in the way that it views other countries, and particularly countries of the Global South. We know that the global apartheid that’s part of…that has been part of international relations so long it’s no longer formal. But I think the Global South, and particularly countries in Africa, feel the sense that they’ve been neglected, and if you know some of the comments that the current President has made describing some of these countries.
So, I think that, yeah, the obstacles will be if the new administration is unable to really give some energy to what has happened in the United States. For example, hashtag Black Lives Matter has resonated so strongly across the globe. And I just think for example, I just want to mention the appointment of Linda Thomas-Greenfield as the United Nations Ambassador of the US. This is a wonderful, wonderful symbol and if she…an obstacle will be if she’s not allowed to really give full vent to the possibilities that she brings and experience that she brings to the table.
00:11:06 Michele Goodwin:
Gregory, thank you so much for being on the show, and I want to put the same question to you but perhaps expand it a little bit, especially in light of what we’ve just heard from Penny. So, what do you see as the challenges that the US will face in terms of rebuilding its reputation and relationships abroad, and also what do you see as opportunities which lie ahead in a Biden-Harris administration which is just around the corner, January 20th?
00:11:21 Gregory Shaffer:
So just to start, the obstacles are immense because, you know, I agree with everything that Lyric, Penny, and David have said, but now the United States faces distrust with respect to its commitment to human rights and racial justice and hypocrisy, but also to democracy. And this…so, the United States has been lecturing other countries and sending observers regarding their adherence to democracy, we now see a basic questioning to US democratic norms.
And so, I think we need to realize that, you know, those outside the United States, they see that Americans are willing to elect a nationalist autocrat leader with an autocratic bent who challenges fundamental norms to democracy. So, this is actually a new situation. The US…views aboard about the United States are at historic lows with positive views that President Trump would do the right thing in global affairs in Germany right now are 10 percent, which means that 90 percent of a democratic core ally in Europe, the population do not trust the President of the United States to do the right thing.
So, we’re in a…we face major challenges and countries now, they’re wary. They’re relieved that Biden is now President, but they’re wary that in four years there could be a return to an autocratically-oriented administration that is a global bully.
00:12:55 Michele Goodwin:
And that would seem to be a significant fear. I want to just take a pause there and we’re going to come back to it because that’s real, especially after the United States has gone through the election that it has and what we see by the numbers is a divided nation, even though Joe Biden appears to lead President Trump by about seven million votes.
The fact that there are now more than 74 million votes that have been cast for President Trump, and the fact that the election has been challenged so significantly, the President has failed in all of those challenges, but all of that is real including people threatening to behead officials, threatening to kidnap governors, and so much more. That’s a reality behind the United States right now, and this reality is during COVID. It’s during a global pandemic.
So, David, I want to first turn to you. Earlier this year you were in discussions about the Trump administration, as you’ve been more than just earlier this year, but specifically about how this administration has weaponized disinformation around the COVID-19 pandemic, including as you say repeatedly emphasizing in a reckless way how the disease is no worse than a bad flu, that it will disappear when the weather warms up, of course the weather warmed up and cooled down, that there were drugs, the hydroxychloroquine and also zinc can prevent infection and so on. You said that these were just ridiculous things, it was disinformation.
And you said that the President has clearly been seeking to weaponize intelligence to provide a basis to argue that there’s been Chinese malfeasance or some kind of incident of coronavirus coming out of a lab in Wuhan. Tell me about where you are now in thinking about this. How has the President’s use of disinformation around COVID-19 and this pandemic, how has that impacted the US’s position abroad?
00:15:07 David Kaye:
Yeah, it’s a great question, and I think we’re at a stage where we don’t know exactly where we’re headed. But I think that…so we’ve had a lot of discussion around disinformation, particularly around vaccine disinformation over the last, you know, several weeks, and also of course from the beginning of the pandemic the President’s disinformation around the disease itself, around the coronavirus itself.
I mean I think a couple of things. One, disinformation particularly online or through Fox News or other basically elements of the right-wing media ecosystem, those are real problems, but they feed off of the oxygen that Donald Trump has given them. And so, come January 20th when Trump doesn’t have the same exact kind of platform, I mean presumably he’ll still have a Twitter account, but he won’t have the same platform of the presidency of the United States, and when Joe Biden comes in, you know, privileging science and fact and Dr. Fauci and so forth I think that there will be somewhat of a change.
There’ll certainly be a change in terms of the rhetoric and the information, the public communication. The problem is that Trump and the GOP more generally have so politicized basic science and basic public health that I’m really concerned about what the future looks like, and this is…I think it’s a particularly American problem.
I mean you do see disinformation around the disease around the world, but it doesn’t have the same kind of, or the same extent of impact that it’s had in the United States and that’s a real problem, and I think it will undermine and will continue to undermine the way people see the United States.
I don’t think these four, these last four years suddenly, you know, Biden administration comes in and speaks in a normal tone to Americans and to the rest of the world is suddenly, you know, the global perception of the United States changes. I think it’s going to be, you know, a long time coming to change all that.
00:17:20 Michele Goodwin:
And we’re going to come back to the health end of this, but I want to pick up on an aspect of this that you spoke about in your writings and even now about the China piece of this.
And I’m going to turn to you, Greg, because in your writings, and you have a book forthcoming that is focusing on global relationships between the United States and China. I’m wondering how you see the shift when Biden comes into office, and I want to build on that, but first I’m curious about, do you think that we’ll see something different with a Biden administration in terms of repairing relationships with China? Is that even something that we should be thinking about in terms of repair relationships?
00:18:03 Gregory Shaffer:
So, China is a major challenge and perhaps the major challenge for the Biden administration going forward. It’s going to completely recalibrate its policy towards China. What it’s going to stop doing is using racist terms such as Wuhan virus, China virus. It’s going to take a much more calibrated approach to China, and it’s also going to work with allies to address real concerns with respect to China.
So for example, China’s become much more assertive and much more aggressive, especially with Australia these days challenging for example in David’s world Australia media critiquing China, which were at a basic free speech, free expression concerns which are central toward democracy.
So, Biden has talked about creating a summit of democracies to work together to confront authoritarianism abroad which includes China. He wrote… a trade war will be something that he’ll have to manage. If what Trump does it’s an opportunity that the tariffs, he’ll try to use these for leverage in his relation…in his negotiations with China, but he’ll do so in a much more strategic calibrated way as opposed to just simply for domestic political purposes blaming all the world’s problems on China, and so that will permit for collaboration with China in areas which are critical such as global public health, the COVID-19, and climate change.
00:19:32 Michele Goodwin:
So, help us to understand a bit more what this tension with China has been all about. How do Americans…I think Americans take their cues from media and it’s not necessarily clear exactly why the US is engaged in this tangle with China. Can you tell us a little bit more about that, and is there anything that’s real there?
00:19:55 Gregory Shaffer:
Yeah. So there’s something real, but it’s twofold. On the one hand, clearly China’s become an economic power which simply didn’t exist 15 or 20 years ago, and so when Biden…even when Biden was Vice President during the Obama administration the United States was just so far ahead of China technologically that it didn’t feel the same threat that it feels today.
But China has invested immensely in innovation and in competitive industries at the strategic heights for the future, such as data technology, artificial intelligence, and so forth. So, this is a real strategic challenger that simply didn’t exist before.
In parallel, the United States… inequality has grown in the United States to levels not seen since the 1930s, so while international trade rules made life more certain and predictable for capitalists, for common workers, life became much more precarious.
Add so, Biden has to balance on the one hand his internationalist tendencies which will, which rightly will try to return the United States to a leadership role in the World Trade Organization, but at the same time putting working class and middle class Americans first to make sure that they benefit from economic globalization as opposed to suffer from it.
00:21:18 Michele Goodwin:
Well, it’s interesting that you should even tag in working class Americans because working class Americans are not Americans that politicians have been talking about over the last 20 or 30 years. So much of it has been just about the middle class, and there’s a lot then that’s been missed.
I want to turn to you, Lyric, in terms of this conversation and then get on to you, Penny, about your perspectives on this because as you mentioned in your opening remarks during this past administration women have been hard hit, not just domestically but also internationally, and it strikes me that there are many Americans who may not understand how our international policies and foreign diplomacy may actually undermine the rights of women abroad, particularly the most vulnerable of women, and can you shed some light on that for our listeners?
00:22:08 Lyric Thompson:
Sure. So just to give you some of the greatest hits, there was the global gag rule which I mentioned.
00:22:13 Michele Goodwin:
Give those to us, please.
00:22:15 Lyric Thompson:
I will. So the global gag rule, which I mentioned, of course conditions now all of US health assistance on ideological opposition to abortion is typically something that Republican presidents invoke day one and Democratic presidents revoke day one, so we’ll definitely be looking for that on day one as a kind of standard procedure, but the impact and the scope has been much greater in this administration.
Number two, literally writing women out of the State Department Human Rights Report. So, there’s this annual Human Rights Report that the State Department does every year that is sort of a global ranking of countries’ practices on various human rights, and over recent years that had grown to include a number of women’s human rights issues including but not limited to gender-based violence, workforce limitations-based, you know, discriminatory laws and things based on sex, LGBTQ rights, certainly reproductive and sexual rights, a whole magnitude of things that were evaluated as part of the criteria upon which the US would say this is good practice or this is a country that needs to do better, and that was always a strong signal and you would see countries undertake efforts to move up the…to address the issues that were called out in the Human Rights Reports.
Those gender-based issues including not just sexual and reproductive health and rights which I think we would probably assume would be sort of a highly politicized first move, but also issues on gender-based violence, things that in previous political cycles were not political issues have also been politicized and written out.
There is the…they didn’t name a global women’s issues ambassador which is a post that we now have after the last administration until late last year, and then they’ve attempted to restrict the scope of that office further so that it only works on women’s economic empowerment issues under the initiative, Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative, which has been championed by Ivanka Trump.
So there…and then there’s been what they’ve done in multilateral bodies. That’s just bilateral efforts. There’s also what they’ve done in multilateral bodies from the most notably probably the Security Council holding up resolutions on women’s rights, gender-based violence, sexual and reproductive health issues that are…the rest of the council members were pretty much unanimous about.
So that’s the greatest hits of, or the worst hits I suppose. And…
00:25:07 Michele Goodwin:
It’s a long…it’s a long list.
00:25:09 Lyric Thompson:
It’s a long list, and I mean I haven’t even turned the page yet. I just, for time sake…
00:25:14 Michele Goodwin:
I know. We could in fact do a show that’s just on…we could…
We could. We should.
00:25:20 Michele Goodwin:
…that are just on that, right?
00:25:21 Lyric Thompson:
I’d love to be part of that show.
00:25:22 Michele Goodwin:
Well, then let’s…okay. Then we’re going to do it. My producers on the show, we’ve got that. It’s check the box. Done.
But I want to tie one other piece to this as well that you’ve talked about, bringing this intersection between COVID and women, and then also reproductive rights matter with this too. So, you’ve commented that there’s been a lack of women on COVID-19 task forces in the United States and abroad, and you’ve said from the very beginning there should’ve been an analytic…an analytical and intentional process among US and foreign policymakers that ask how do we make sure that the policy choices that we make are not exacerbating issues for women. What were you getting at there?
00:26:12 Lyric Thompson:
So, this is a clear example of what we want to see in terms of representative government. We want…and this administration, this incoming administration, the Biden-Harris administration has committed to a government that looks more like America, both Biden and Harris committed to gender parity on the campaign trail, and I think we’ve seen from the stream of appointments, Linda Thomas-Greenfield was already mentioned as UN Ambassador, that they seem to be very intentionally walking the talk on that commitment.
That hasn’t necessarily been practiced on, not just in the US, but globally coronavirus task forces, and the converse of that that you may have seen in the headlines was where women leaders have been more successful at combatting the coronavirus.
Now, I’m very careful not to lay any claims that women are inherently better leaders than men. I think given the equal opportunities for power and corruption we would probably be just as corruptible. But I do think that there are…
00:27:25 Michele Goodwin:
I don’t know about that, but anyway I do get the larger point.
00:27:28 Lyric Thompson:
One day we’ll see. Let’s give us equal power and opportunity and then we’ll finally be able to answer that question.
One thing that I do think that we can look at though is characteristics of those leadership models that do value evidence-based, collaboration, listening to the experts, and that in that regard, and also just the importance of nothing about us without us as a principle in policymaking.
If you don’t have women on a task force or at the State Department or at these multilateral tables, at peace negotiations, if you don’t have LGBTQ and gender nonconforming people, if you don’t have racial and ethnic minorities, if you don’t have people who have disabilities, if you don’t have those people at the table it’s more difficult for the issues that those people interface with to be visible to the policymaking process. And so, that’s the call here is that we have seen women pushed out of the workforce on coronavirus.
00:28:30 Michele Goodwin:
Exactly. And we see that when women do better who’ve been leading from those spaces. But what you’ve just brought us to is why I’m so happy that we’re also joined by Penny Andrews as well because Penny, you’ve been tackling these issues from multiple spaces and leadership, and you’ve been doing it from what’s described as the Global South and you’ve heard it all before.
So I would really appreciate your speaking to the question, what role will race play for this next administration. What role does it play currently in the world in terms of who gets and who doesn’t get…who gets the opportunity, who doesn’t get the, you know, opportunity, and you know this also comes out of, you know, your work, you’re directing a racial justice project. So, tell us about the roles of race in thinking about the international stage coming forward.
00:29:30 Penelope Andrews:
Yes, thank you. I wonder if you’d mind if I just quickly respond to something that Gregory mentioned about China. And so, I’m thinking through initially you’d raised this question about the United States and the obstacles, you know, that the administration might face. I just wanted to make two points.
The first is, is that the United States, we’ve seen this past four years as an aberration, but in actual fact this pandemic and the pause and the reflection, we actually have to think about the United States for the last 40 years or so and that what the administration has done has accelerated some pretty negative ways that the United States for example in foreign policy around race…
Now, the Obama Presidency halted some of that and you know, we I think globally people were very, very optimistic about the United States, and I would say generally, particularly from the Global South really, really admired and even loved the President. So with respect to American leadership I think that, you know, that is the question.
And then the other point that Greg raised about institutions, I mean one of the things that these past few years have shown is that the United States is no longer exceptional, in fact it’s like a Third World country on many levels, if you listen to Trevor Noah, you know how our institutions are being challenged, governance, the courts, etcetera. So, I think it’s an interesting sort of…it’s an interesting conversation we’re having about it. There’s so much that this administration must do.
And the point for me is that it needs to address what’s happened the past four years, but maybe it also needs to address what happened the past 40 years.
00:31:15 Michele Goodwin:
And one could say even 400 years, really, given I think where you’re taking us. And now you’re going to address my question on…
00:31:21 Penelope Andrews:
00:31:21 Michele Goodwin:
…but just to just respond back to something that you said so that listeners don’t think that it’s hyperbole, when you say that some people, including Trevor Noah would compare the United States to a Third World country, I suppose if one looks at the ways in which the election has been challenged or the need to have monitors to make sure that the most vulnerable of Americans could actually cast their vote and do so in less than eight hours, as we know that during pandemic there were people who during primaries were in lines for seven or eight hours, this is part of what you’re talking about and I think what is referenced in food deserts and so much more.
But on that question of race.
00:32:02 Penelope Andrews:
00:32:03 Michele Goodwin:
00:32:03 Penelope Andrews:
But I also want to just…I want a footnote as well that the United States is not a Third World country, far from it, but that’s another point that…you know.
With respect to race, and then this also builds on what Lyric said about being at the table. As I said earlier, the Black Lives Matter resonated very strongly globally and the United States because of its own civil rights struggle has always at least formally been committed to race, even though it’s not always succeeded in doing so.
So I think the possibilities at this point is just a historical moment in which there’s a clear sense of reckoning in the United States and in which other countries are also, you know, embarking on the struggle to look at the legacy of colonialism and racism and so on. So, it’s really important that there be an inclusive approach to these things.
Now, one of the things that Lyric said was about having people at the table. It’s important that women are at the table. It’s important that racial minorities and so on are at the table. I think that’s essential, but I think the problem is, is that even if you have people at the table, what are their values.
You know, we added a new woman to the Supreme Court. You know, we did a whole…you know, in South Africa, you know, we’ve gone through a whole revolution and you know, we put in place a Black government and in fact, in the last 25 years many…the Black government arguably has not acted in the interest of people, so the question of the majority of people, if you look at the poverty, the corruption and so on.
So I think that it is very important that you center the conversation, you ensure that there’s inclusion, but there’s got to be a cultural shift and a sort of sense of value. So for me, I think it’s more important that we have a court that reflects the values of social justice than having people on the court who represent…you know, representivity doesn’t translate into transformation and I think that’s a very, very important thing.
I do think though, that I think that Linda Thomas-Greenfield if you look at her biography, you look at her experience and such, she’s going to be at the United Nations and just symbolically what she brings to the United Nations, it’s almost what happened with Andy Young when Carter appointed him as UN Ambassador. There’s a shift that goes on, and you know the majority of Black countries, particularly from the Global South, see the possibilities.
I do think that if you look at the last appointment that’s just been announced, the Secretary of Defense, that the President clearly is committed to, you know, inclusion and have race as part of the discussion.
Now, I don’t know. I mean there are certain things that the United States has done under President Obama for example, the African Growth and Opportunities Act was enacted to work with particularly countries in Africa, but global. Well, it was for Africa to ensure that tariffs were removed, etcetera, etcetera, and AGOA has limped along. I think that President Biden will really strengthen AGOA. There was a sense that it might lapse. So that is…it’s sort of embedding racial justice with economic justice.
00:35:20 Michele Goodwin:
And doing those in transformative ways it sounds like, not just simply underfunded initiatives, but that these initiatives need to be funded but at the fundamental level that the thought here is doing that which is transformative.
Well, the economy has been certainly a sticking point with regard to international relations and there are Americans who believe that somehow Americans are suffering because of the ways in which US corporations engage abroad.
So I’m going to turn to you for this question, Greg, then which is how does the United States begin under a Biden and Harris administration to, one, repair where these relationships internationally in terms of where we stand economically, but I guess also, is it real what people have a sense of, that the US is somehow suffering in international trade deals, that the US is being exploited. Is there a reality to that? Can you clarify it for us?
00:36:25 Gregory Shaffer:
Yes. So there is a reality to it, but it’s only part of a broader reality which is with major technological shifts have…are hitting manufacturing jobs. So, actually under the Trump administration manufacturing jobs have declined in the United States despite his raising tariffs to 21 percent and consequently increasing prices in the United States for those products by 21 percent so that’s a reality, but trade is also part of it.
And so, what he needs to do is he needs to do two things. One, he really needs to bolster with the US social safety net, education policy, retooling policy to provide real opportunities for Americans across the economic spectrum. This is the reason why trade is so much more controversial here than in Europe, and Europe is simply is not as controversial as the United States because they have real job retraining programs, job adjustment programs, a social safety net, guaranteed healthcare that’s not linked with your job.
And so, we fundamentally need to change that calculus. If we don’t change that calculus then we need to protect ourselves from the onslaught of lower priced Chinese imports. It’s either/or. You can’t have global liberalization and no social safety net here. But in combination I think, and we see this, this is actually something that the Trump administration did, but pressed by a Democratic Congress, is to put a lot more labor protections in the revised NAFTA, the US Mexico-Canada Agreement.
So now, you actually have a process where labor organizations can petition the US government to suspend imports from companies in Mexico which do not respect collected bargaining rights under Mexican law. That’s really important because it means that the US doesn’t have to bring an international law case against Mexico, it can immediately respond, and part of that process is that you create, because obviously this can be abused in order to simply to keep out Mexican imports, but it triggers a binational process where within four months a court needs to determine whether or not those collective bargaining rights indeed were disrespected in Mexico. So this needs, this labor aspect, labor protection aspect needs to become part of trade agreements.
00:38:59 Michele Goodwin:
So, what does that mean? So, tell us a little bit more about what that means for the average workers, you know, Americans who say, you know, look, my job has gone to Mexico? Does this affect the Americans who say my job has gone to Mexico and I need a job and you’re not making…building jobs and opportunities for me here in the United States?
00:39:17 Gregory Shaffer:
Yeah. Well, it does mean that they’re not competing against the production which involves violence against workers, you know retaliation against anyone who tries to form a union and so forth, and so that of course then will enhance the bargaining power of Mexican workers, and it enables the United States to block imports from Mexico which will then protect US jobs, so US jobs will not be in competition with those who are abusing labor rights abroad and that’s critical.
00:39:48 Michele Goodwin:
And that’s important, although I don’t know if it actually addresses the question that Americans have had in states where there have been job shortages or where they’ve lost their jobs and they say, well, look, I still need a job here and that’s something to be addressed, and I think that that’s part of an international question. Clearly, it’s a domestic question, but it’s a domestic question that’s also tied to international things, and we’re going to get back to this.
But I have a question for David that connects with all of this because some of the jobs that have been created abroad happen to be addressing the environment and it’s a huge area, and Greg, from what you’ve written I know that that’s an area where China’s been expanding. So, you think about the jobs that China’s building on, they are jobs that respond to a changing climate, right? It’s taking certain things seriously that in the United States we haven’t.
And David, I know this has been an area in which you’ve also talked about, about the environment, journalists being free to talk about this, and in the space of climate change, a global pandemic we have an administration that has decided to pull out of the WHO, and so I’m wondering what you see as the future of the US relationships in foreign policy with regard to the environment, with regard to health. Are we going to rejoin the WHO? What lies ahead?
00:41:15 David Kaye:
Yeah, I mean in both of those areas I expect there to be pretty sharp change from the Trump years. I mean Biden has appointed John Kerry to lead on climate change. I think that’s a pretty big deal because, you know, John Kerry negotiated for the United States, you know, climate change deals when he was Secretary of State and I think he’s…I think that’s a signal of seriousness for the United States, and so I think we’ll see a change at the global level.
And I think with the WHO the same thing is true. I think that there’s no way that the United States is going to leave the WHO after January 20th. It’s not going to happen before then so, and even if it were to happen before then the United States would re-engage.
So I think on both of those, purely in terms of re-engaging, we’ll see real action that people who are committed to multilateralism and to engagement are going to applaud. That’s all good.
I think the real question is going to be sort of where we started, which is how do we go beyond that? I think Lyric actually started with this point especially. It’s not just re-engaging, it’s re-engaging with what? So, if we re-engage in climate change, can Joe Biden really bring Congress around to actually effectuate the kind of climate policies that need to be adopted by the United States, by Congress? I’m not sure that’s going to be possible over the short term.
With respect to WHO I think it’ll be a little bit easier, you know, but it’s not a perfect road ahead. I mean I do think that your question when you…immediately after Greg’s point was exactly right, which is the intersection between international and domestic has never been clearer and more important, and I think that you know we tend to silo those things, both as a matter of conversation and as a matter of bureaucracy.
So in one space that I follow really closely, the digital right space, you know, internet freedom, content moderation, internet security, and all of those things, you have two different conversations in the United States. You have the domestic conversation, you know, should we be breaking up Facebook, and the global conversation about the power over communities and discussion and journalism and so forth isn’t really a big part of the sort of the US policy conversation. Those are separated out and yet they’re intricately related, they’re integrated with one another pretty closely. So, I think we need to find ways to make the domestic conversation relevant to what we’re going to do in our foreign policy.
00:44:15 Michele Goodwin:
Well, I’ll open that up to all of my guests then. How exactly do we do that because one of the issues that you touch on, David, so well reminds me of the gridlock that President Obama experienced with a Republican-led Senate. The Republican-led Senate made very clear that we will be the Senate of no, there’s nothing that this President is going to be able to get through the Senate. This was after the Affordable Care Act was successfully enacted and signed into law, but after that it was just simply gridlock.
So for all of the things that we’ve talked about, with the exception of what Lyric has mentioned through executive order, taking away the executive orders put in place by the Trump administration, perhaps Joe Biden ruling a bit by executive order in terms of expanding reproductive rights abroad, but what’s going to work here with this particular Congress? What do you see, because the President is limited in terms of what he’s able to do abroad to some degree based on the Congress that he inherits? Who wants to start first?
00:45:22 Gregory Shaffer:
I’ll jump in. I mean, Michele, you’re right that this is a central challenge for Biden that he simply will not…there will not be new treaties that the United States signs, there will not be much new legislation that the United States passes given Congress, and so he’ll have to act through executive orders. He’ll have to act through executive agreements such as he did with the Paris Agreement on climate change. That’ll be the future, but that future still matters. Rhetoric will change, rhetoric discourse, international discourse. The United States has not been able to exercise any normative leadership, in fact, to the contrary.
And so, this will really matter, having Biden, just as it mattered having Obama because the Iran deal with respect to a nuclear deproliferation, the Paris Climate deal, all the…there’s all sorts of powers that the Executive Branch has, but the idea that somehow there’s a transformation of the US political system, no, he’s going to be under severe constraints.
00:46:26 Michele Goodwin:
Who else wants to join in on that?
00:46:28 Lyric Thompson:
So, I’d like to take an optimistic view on that piece which is to say that I don’t think the political calculus changes. I agree with that in terms of partisanship and we’ve seen that. But I think what we’ve seen in other countries around the world particularly is following major crisis there’s opportunity and a political imperative to come together, and I think that the coronavirus pandemic does give some of that push factor on some of these issues.
The attention to the burden of unpaid care work that women disproportionately shoulder and what that has meant for them being pushed out of the workforce, the importance of healthcare coverage. Some of these issues that were nonstarters have been…we saw actually directly addressed in the CARES Act.
And so, I think there is a fragment of a coalition to be built around positioning this as how we rebuild from crisis that then hopefully has enough time to become how we handle things moving forward.
I also think that as we are seeing unprecedented numbers of women and people of color and trans people and LGBTQ people running for office and winning, that has been something that there are pieces of this, the feminist foreign policy agenda for instance, that can be broken apart and legislated. Trade is a really good example of that where no country in the world has ever included women’s rights as binding provisions of a trade agreement.
There have been a couple of countries, both of which have feminist foreign policies by the way, Canada being one, that have tried to include a gender, some rhetoric about gender in their trade agreements, but never have they rose to the level of environmental protections or labor protections. That I think is an opportunity and we’ve seen legislation starting to deal with this now. This is something that I think there are pieces of this that can move. It’s just going to be about a creative exercise of giving everyone the language and framing that they need to be able to justify it to their core constituencies, and I think the pandemic is a real shot at that, as is the climate crisis.
00:49:02 Michele Goodwin:
So, Gregory gave us what he might call the pragmatist view. Lyric just gave us the optimist view. Penny, I think that you were about to speak.
00:49:12 Penelope Andrews:
I think I probably want to give the hybrid view. I’m not even sure…I’m not sure if it’s pessimistic or optimistic. But one of the things that I’ve really been interested in is, Lyric is correct that a moment of crisis provides the opportunity for countries to make a difference, but this moment of crisis has clearly illustrated how polarized and how divided the United States is.
And so, we are I think looking at this from the top down where the President can do in the limiting post by Congress, but if you think about the voting in this country the largest numbers of people voted. If you look at the way that the vote was… really a very…it was a successful vote, so how does that translate into citizen action and what people want? And I’m afraid this is where I’m pessimistic, there’s not been coalitions.
If you look at the result of the election, you know, the President was voted out of office, but you know, more women came to Congress, but of course they didn’t come necessarily to the…they don’t necessarily share our values and so on. So I think that unless there’s sort of a shift from the bottom up that there’s real coalition, and somebody had mentioned earlier that there has to be a coalition, not just around identity but around class interests.
I mean working class people share interests across racial lines, but increasingly we take identity markers as the most important in terms of our political coalition, and I think it’s doomed to failure. That’s where I think that unless there’s a real transformed agenda about an assault on working…you know, what working people have to confront and the gross inequalities in the United States.
And then the second is, is I just sort of…you know, I as an immigrant and as somebody who’s lived in a few countries, three specifically, the global always feels to me very elitist. Our discourse is an elite discourse in the United States, and I think it happens in education and culture. We just…Americans don’t…I mean South Africans for example or Australians know more about American history and politics than any American would ever know about Australia and South Africa. So we tend to, for a whole range of reasons, be much more…
00:51:27 Michele Goodwin:
There is an exceptionalism. You’re absolutely right.
00:51:30 Penelope Andrews:
00:51:30 Michele Goodwin:
00:51:30 Penelope Andrews:
So we’re sort of self-referential and that sometimes translates into a sort of elite enclaves, and where “ordinary” people don’t necessarily see the connection to the global. So there has to be an educational shift I think and a cultural shift, and this is heavy lifting from the bottom up. It can happen.
00:51:50 Michele Goodwin:
Well, you know, to that point, you know, Penny, look, there are Americans who don’t even know their own history, right? So, let’s be clear that this is also a deeply selective history. And when you talk about the coalitions that could be built, well, let’s also be clear that W.E.B. Du Bois more than a century ago, right, said that it was the color line that was the distraction.
00:53:25 David Kaye:
Yeah, exactly. So, I mean I take as a given much of what’s been said in terms of the difficulty of making policy, of getting legislation, of making treaties, I mean we haven’t been in a treaty-making mode for a long time. But there’s one thing, and I’m also very taken by Penny’s point about coalition building, and one question is whether coalitions and also public education can happen from the top down.
And there is one mechanism that we never talk about in the United States, but in democratic countries around the world and in many others they have something like this. So, many countries have what’s known as a National Human Rights Institute, an NHRI, and you know, when we put all of our, let’s say our eggs in the basket of the Supreme Court or the federal courts or in Congress, we’re going to be consistently disappointed.
But an NHRI, a human rights institution for the United States, right, an institution that is actually something that could be based on our own obligations under human rights law that the United States…you know, treaties that the United States has ratified over the years, could be the basis for people to bring major concerns of human rights, of economic, social and cultural rights, not just civil and political rights, but bring to the fore in a way that maybe it doesn’t directly change law, or doesn’t immediately change law, but it allows some of these conversations to be part of a kind of legitimized discussion that, you know, causes…well, it allows coalitions, it allows civil society to address government, and it requires government to respond.
So I kind of want us to be thinking, or I want the Biden administration to be thinking about what other tools are out there, and we could look…you mentioned exceptionalism. We don’t have to only look at what we do. Why don’t we look at what others do to make these kinds of conversations part of the policy discussion, even if they don’t have a direct impact on law, they may have a long-term one.
00:55:37 Michele Goodwin:
Well, to that point, really, when the United States began its pathway in the Supreme Court towards decriminalizing LGBTQ status and sex, it was in looking abroad, right? As you remember, the early cases by Justice Kennedy citing international laws and what’s happening in other countries. So, that’s a great point. I’m so happy that you mentioned that. It’s really important to lift that up.
So, we get to this point in our conversation on this show where time just goes by way too quickly, but we want a sense of what that silver lining happens to be, and what comes next that gives hope for people who are listening and also those in government who want to actually move the needle forward. And so, this is a quick wrap-around, and I’m going to start with you, Lyric, if you can quickly give us what you see as the silver lining coming ahead.
00:56:31 Lyric Thompson:
I would say representative government not just in representation, but in spending that power on behalf of people who’ve traditionally been left out. On the foreign policy side that’s called feminist foreign policy, but it should absolutely have domestic corollaries. We should ratify CETA. That should be, you know, a part of our human rights agenda which I very much like what David just laid out. So for me, it’s a feminist approach to policymaking in government that goes beyond the politics of representation into true transformation.
00:57:02 Michele Goodwin:
Thanks so much for that. David, what do you see as the silver lining ahead?
00:57:07 David Kaye:
I suppose one silver lining is we’ve seen what we’re capable of in this country, and I guess my hope… I mean we’ve seen what we’re capable of for 70, 80 years, but I do think…if not 400, as you mentioned before. But I think there might be a sense that we’ve kind of come up to the precipice, and I guess my hope, maybe this is too much of a…you know, too much optimism, but I do have this hope that many, many people have seen how tenuous our norms and our rules are, and maybe, maybe over time we can develop a way to kind of reinforce those norms as matters of law, and maybe that’s not possible over the very short term, but my hope is that over the long term we can head in that direction.
And maybe these last four years, and I’m not a silver linings type of person, maybe, maybe we can take something away from the last four years that positive and moves us in that direction.
00:58:20 Michele Goodwin:
Thank you, David, for indulging me on the silver lining. And what about you, Penny?
00:58:25 Penelope Andrews:
Two quick ones. One is I’m going to be totally self-referential here and say that as a Black woman, as an immigrant, having Kamala Harris as the Vice President, what she brings, the possibilities and she sort of stamps on this country, we are immigrants. There’s a way in which we all belong and the project that they’ve committed themselves to, to social justice, so I’m very, very…I think the silver lining is having the Biden-Harris right there, people right there.
And then the second is, is that I think that the society…American society has been put on notice of how fragile some of our institutions might become if we do not pay attention. So I think many, many more people are paying attention and that to me is a silver lining. It’s great promise for the democracy here.
00:59:11 Michele Goodwin:
You are so right that COVID has revealed underlying institutional and infrastructural inequalities and inequities in this society, so thank you so much for that, Penny. And Professor Gregory Shaffer, wrapping up with you, what do you see as the silver lining?
00:59:29 Gregory Shaffer:
Well, I’ll pull off of what Penny just said, her two points. So, one is that the Biden administration, President Biden viewed this as a struggle for the soul of America. That discourse came out of the Civil Rights Movement. Never before has a white male President as a central force of his vision for his administration adopted the language of civil rights and the Civil Rights Movement. So, I think we should really rec…and he’s followed that up with his appointments, as we’ve seen in this show, and so that’s something real and it’s something different. It’s something new, and he won the vote in the struggle for the soul of America, so we should take that into account.
And the second aspect is after four years the…other countries are hungry for the United States to re-engage at the international level and international organizations with international, not just with other countries, but also with international organizations and international civil society, and so there are real opportunities that lay before us for the next four years.
01:00:32 Michele Goodwin:
Well, thank you all very much. It’s been my pleasure and honor to be with you today. Thank you for being on our show.
01:00:38 Michele Goodwin:
Guests and listeners, that’s it for today’s episode of “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin.” I want to thank my guests, Penelope Andrews, David Kaye, Gregory Shaffer, and Lyric Thompson for joining us and being a part of this critical and insightful conversation.
And to our listeners, I thank you for tuning in for the full story. We hope you’ll join us again for our next episode as we will be reporting, rebelling and telling it like it is with special guests tackling issues related to our year-end review and looking ahead to 2021 and beyond. It’s going to be an episode you will not want to miss.
And for more information about what we discussed today, please head to msmagazine.com and if you believe as we do that women’s voices matter, that equality for all persons cannot be delayed, and that rebuilding America, being unbought and unbossed and reclaiming our time are important, then be sure to visit us at Apple Podcast.
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This has been your host, Michele Goodwin, reporting, rebelling, and telling it like it is. “On the Issues with Michele Goodwin” is a Ms. Magazine joint production. Kathy Spillar and Michele Goodwin are our executive producers, and our producers for this episode are Maddy Pontz, Roxy Szal, and Mariah Lindsey. The creative vision behind our work includes art and design by Brandi Phipps, editing by Will Alvarez and Marsh Alan, and music by Chris J. Lee. Stephanie Wilner provides executive assistance.
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