Yale Law School professor and former Legal Adviser to the State Department Harold Hongju Koh discussed his new book, Trump and International Law at Barnes & Noble on Sunday.
Hoh served the State Department under Obama from 2009 to 2013. His book examines the relationship between the Trump administration and international policies.
The book is divided into three themes that include: “The Anatomy of a Struggle,” “What’s at Stake” and “A Call to Action”.
During the talk, Koh discussed the first chapter, stating that he is a proud part of the resistance against Trump. He further drew attention to tactics that the Trump administration has used in the past to discredit institutions, such as the media and the State Department, which have the ability to check his power.
However, Koh stressed the role of the U.S. court system in combating some of Trump’s policies on a national level.
He explained that despite fears that the President would enforce laws that would negatively affect the country, there are constitutional and global practices put in place to prevent this type of behavior.
“The system of international and domestic laws are actually very fundamentally intertwined. This creates default patterns of behavior that are law-compliant, which are very difficult for one man to break,” he said.
According to Koh, civic institutions, such as the judicial system, have pushed back against many of Trump’s policies. He cited the two U.S. District Court decisions, which effectively ended the Trump Administration’s policy of separating migrant families from their children, as an example.
Koh believes that this coordinated resistance has prevented Trump from achieving many of his goals.
Despite his faith in the courts, Koh believes that there is a lot at stake in American politics today.
“It’s a struggle between the kind of world order conceived by Immanuel Kant, of several governments working together under the framework of law, versus an Orwellian structure in which dictators control their own space, change enemies and allies each day, and there is no truth,” he said.
He stressed the importance of resistance against the Trump administration, as well as resilience in the face of it.
“The message of the book is what I would call resistance and resilience,“ he said. “Resistance, because the world structure Trump can dismantle. Resilience, because all these systems rise and fall together. We’re going to need this resistance to prevent lasting harm. We’re going to need this resilience to rebuild our society after Trump is gone.”
Koh recalled a time when he was speaking at a panel at Yale Law School, when a student approached him and expressed his concern about the state of the U.S. under Trump, especially in relation to the rest of the world. Koh told the student that despite potential changes, he was optimistic about the future of the country.
“There’s something bigger than Trump. It’s international law. It’s the transnational legal process,” he said.
He finished his talk with a call for action.
“This is not time for passivity. This is a time for robust engagement by all civic institutions,” he said. “We’re going to have to fight for that law and keep the moral arc of the universe bent towards justice.”
The event then opened into a question-and-answer session.
Many of the audience’s questions centered around international cooperation regarding issues such as climate change, the varying perceptions of Trump among global figures, general voting patterns and the role of education in democracy.
In response to a question, Koh addressed low voter turnout among young people. He believes that the 2016 election and the events that have transpired since then, such as rollbacks in LGBTQ rights and the Kavanaugh hearings, have inspired young people to become more politically active.
“If you don’t vote, how can you complain?” he asked.
Koh added that he believes young people today should be particularly concerned with climate change.
“You’ve got to care. You’ve got to say to your classmates, ‘This is about us,’” he said.
Senior International Studies major Gunho Moon attended the talk. He said that he had read some of Koh’s books and appreciated his take on international law.
“It was really interesting to see what he thinks of the current administration and the international law system, being tied into it,” he said.
Moon also discussed some of Trump’s immigration policies. He said that being an international student gave him a unique perspective on these policies.
“It’s interesting to see the disparity between what South Koreans think about Trump and what Hopkins students think about Trump, and I guess as a Hopkins student I’m more aware of what Trump is doing than people back in my country,“ he said.