BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. President Donald Trump has had a damaging influence on efforts to make some American cities stronger, safer and more cohesive, especially those looking to build bridges across racial divides, the head of The Rockefeller Foundation said.
Attempts to help communities of different ethnicities work together and feel more connected have suffered a setback since Trump took office in January, said Rajiv Shah, who ran the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) from 2009 to 2015.
“In those environments, the Trump effect on resilience has been quite detrimental,” said Shah, who was appointed president of the New York-based Rockefeller Foundation in March.
“Whatever the causality of it is, it’s pretty clear that in America, racial tension is much higher today than it was overtly even a few years ago. That is deeply damaging to many of the cities in which we work on resilience issues,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation this week during a visit to Thailand.
Tulsa in Oklahoma, which is part of 100 Resilient Cities, a network backed by The Rockefeller Foundation to help cities deal with modern-day pressures, is one example of a place where things have become more difficult, Shah said in an interview.
“The fact that we have violence and neo-fascist rallies in public places like Charlottesville and New Orleans and elsewhere is not a step forward for our democracy. It certainly doesn’t help resilience,” he added.
Trump drew widespread condemnation when he blamed both sides for violence that broke out at a rally in Charlottesville, organized by neo-Nazis and white nationalists.
Late last month, the billionaire shared anti-Muslim videos posted on Twitter by a far-right British party leader. The U.S. president has previously dismissed accusations of racism.
Under its push for greater resilience, Tulsa is working to get different ethnic communities to live alongside one another, handle housing and mobility in a more joined-up way, avoid conflict, and support community policing.
“On the range of those types of issues, things have gotten more tense and more challenging,” said Shah, whose organization partners with the Thomson Reuters Foundation on resilience coverage.
Shah, who led the U.S. effort to assist Haiti after its devastating 2010 earthquake, also criticized U.S. relief efforts following the recent hurricanes that hit Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.
About a third of Puerto Rico’s residents are still without power and hundreds remain in shelters three months after Hurricane Maria devastated its main island.
“Every American citizen should be secure in the fact that when a crisis hits, we’re a generous and capable super power nation able to take care of our own,” said Shah, who recently returned from a visit to the U.S. territory. “For whatever reason, it didn’t happen in Puerto Rico.”
Shah said the team he led in Haiti back in 2010 was told to do all they could to save lives and provide aid without concern for cost.
“It didn’t feel like those were the guiding principles for the relief effort in Puerto Rico,” he added.
Looking back at recent political events, Shah noted that Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and the U.S. election showed many parents in large parts of America and elsewhere believe their children’s lives will not be as hopeful or prosperous as their own.
Barriers to achieving the American dream are “tearing our country apart”, said Shah.
Tackling this issue will be a big focus next year for The Rockefeller Foundation’s philanthropic work, which will search for solutions driven by data and rooted in social science through a series of new partnerships, he added.
Reporting by Michael Taylor, editing by Megan Rowling; Please credit Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights, and climate change. Visit www.trust.org