Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Thursday that the American way of life and its founding principles are “under attack,” focusing his criticism on voices in the news media and protesters who have torn down statues of historical figures.
Speaking in Philadelphia at the National Constitution Center, where he accepted the first report of the advisory “Commission on Unalienable Rights,” Pompeo said the events roiling the United States today are antithetical to the nation’s ideals.
“And yet today, the very core of what it means to be an American, indeed the American way of life itself, is under attack,” he said. “Instead of seeking to improve America, leading voices promulgate hatred of our founding principles.”
Pompeo had harsh criticism for the New York Times’ 1619 Project, named for the year the first slaves were transported to the New World, saying its underlying message was that “our country was founded for human bondage.”
“They want you to believe the Marxist ideology that America is only the oppressors and the oppressed,” he said. “The Chinese Communist Party must be gleeful when they see the New York Times spout their ideology.”
He also criticized the “rioters” who have yanked down statues around the country, many of them erected in honor of Confederate officers in the Civil War but also slave-owning founders of the nation.
“The rioters pulling down statues thus see nothing wrong with desecrating monuments to those who fought for unalienable rights – from our founding to the present day,” he said. “This is a dark vision of America’s birth. I reject it. It is a disturbed reading of history. It is a slander on our great people. Nothing could be further from the truth!”
Citing Frederick Douglass, a freed slave who called the Constitution “a glorious liberty document,” Pompeo added, “America is special. America is good. America does good, all around the world.”
Pompeo’s remarks were made during a speech that otherwise focused on the necessity of the United States being a model for human rights around the world and making human rights a central component of U.S. foreign policy.
Pompeo created the Commission on Unalienable Rights a year ago and directed the 11 academics appointed to it – including his mentor at Harvard Law School – to examine the basics of human rights doctrine rooted in documents like the Declaration of Independence. He has said he hopes it will spark a debate on human rights at time when some authoritarian governments are committing abuses with abandon.
But Pompeo’s remarks came in for immediate criticism from some human-rights groups, who have been wary that the commission’s work will downgrade the importance of rights important to progressives.
“Secretary Pompeo’s speech today on the Commission on the Unalienable Rights loosely clothed a foray into the culture wars under the seal of the U.S. State Department,” said Rob Berschinski, vice president for policy at Human Rights First. “It should rightfully be seen as a political speech unbecoming of a secretary of state.”