Trump's election was symptomatic of an international trend toward populism and antiestablishment leadership. Rodrigo Duterte, who was elected President of the Philippines a few months before Trump, is not exactly a benevolent dealmaker. When Trump invited Duterte to visit the White House on April 30, during a "very friendly conversation," both Republicans and Democrats expressed their concern - and for good reason.
Duterte ran his campaign promising to eradicate crime and target drug users as well as dealers. Since ascending to power, Duterte instigated what has come to be described as "death squads" or extrajudicial crime-fighters who have slaughtered more than 7,000 drug users and distributors across the country. Perhaps more troubling is Duterte's defense of the killings. In a September speech after he secured the presidency, Duterte expressed a troubling comparison between the Holocaust and his war on drugs.
"Hitler massacred 3 million Jews. Now there is 3 million, what is it, 3 million drug addicts (in the Philippines)," Duterte said. "I'd be happy to slaughter them. At least if Germany had Hitler, the Philippines would have (me)."
Duterte's praise of Hitler is sadly not the first time he has disturbed human rights activists. During his campaign, Duterte proudly admitted to killing addicts when he was mayor of Davao City. "(I'd) go around Davao with a motorcycle, with big bike around and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also," said Duterte. "I was really looking for an encounter so I could kill."
If you haven't guessed it yet, Duterte is definitely not a leader the United States wants to align itself with. But that didn't seem to concern Trump who also, according to Duterte's spokesman, expressed understanding about the Philippines' drug problems.
Republicans, Democrats, and even members of Trump's own administration have criticized the president's embrace of Duterte. Though Trump's affinity for Duterte is unsurprising given their similar inflammatory dispositions, Trump's tacit approval of crimes against humanity is troubling.
John Sifton, who heads Human Rights Watch's East Asia division, told The New York Times that Trump should be ashamed. "By essentially endorsing Duterte's murderous war on drugs, Trump is now morally complicit in future killings," said Sifton.
It doesn't seem that Duterte will be visiting the White House anytime soon, however. The Philippines leader said he might be too busy to accept Trump's invitation. "I am tied up. I cannot make any definite promise," Duterte told reporters on May 1. "I am supposed to go to Russia, I am supposed to go to Israel."