This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
US President Donald Trump’s phone calls and interactions with foreign leaders have always left room for speculation. But according to his former aides and members of his administration, the conversations have left them “genuinely horrified”, The Washington Post reported.
One of the phone calls that was of particular concern was his conversation with Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in April 2017, wherein Trump congratulated the latter for an “unbelievable job on the drug problem” referring to the bloody drug war that has killed over 20,000 people, according to the Human Rights Commission.
At that time, the White House had dismissed the conversation as one of several calls Trump made to heads of state in Southeast Asia. Critics of Duterte’s bloody campaign against drugs however, said Trump’s congratulatory message was an endorsement of Duterte’s alleged disregard for due process and human rights.
The criticism apparently didn’t affect Trump.
Months after that call, Duterte and Trump finally met in the Philippines at the ASEAN summit in November 2017, where the two leaders got along swimmingly.
At the summit, Duterte and Trump only had praises for each other. According to Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Trump even compared Duterte to Frank Sinatra after Duterte sang for him during the event. And, in a Newsweek article on September 2018, Duterte was quoted as saying that Trump “speaks my language.”
Their mutual admiration may stem from their supposed similarities. In 2019, US State Secretary Mike Pompeo was quoted telling Duterte, “You’re just like Trump,” apparently referring to their similar temperament and style of governance. Both leaders have also been criticised for their foul mouths and sexist remarks on various occasions.
Washington Post reported that the call to Duterte was just one of many that Trump made to world leaders who are either “outright authoritarian or display authoritarian tendencies” recounting how the officials were outrageous and borderline selling out.
Other leaders included China President Xi Jin Ping, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
According to the White House staff, they feared Trump would make promises he couldn’t keep, endorse policies that the US government would not support, commit diplomatic blunders that could jeopardise alliances, or make deals in exchange for personal favours.
“There was a constant undercurrent in the Trump administration of [senior staff] who were genuinely horrified by the things they saw that were happening on these calls,” said one former White House official. Among them, the official said, were “phone calls that were embarrassing, huge mistakes he made, months and months of work that were upended by one impulsive tweet.”
A request for response from Duterte's spokesperson went unanswered.