The U.S. government has never been a consistent promoter of human rights — other interests were often prioritized — but when it did act, it could be powerful. Yet U.S. influence on human rights has plummeted under President Donald Trump. If Joe Biden assumes the presidency, he will need to oversee a major transformation if he wants the U.S. government to be a credible human rights voice.
It will not be enough simply to revert to the (often inadequate) policies of four years ago. The world has changed since then, with a pandemic, the further rise of China — which recently sanctioned me and 10 other U.S citizens for our rights work on Hong Kong — and growing global awareness of racism, inequality and other injustices that leave so many people behind. U.S. policy will need to adjust.
It is harder to contemplate major changes from a second Trump administration. But even Trump, once he no longer needs to appeal to his base for re-election, may be more willing to contemplate his global image and place in history. Or perhaps Congress can succeed in exerting pressure on him to reassess his most detrimental human rights policies.
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