As the world watches the chaotic countdown to a new president in Washington, one anticipated policy shift after Joe Biden’s inauguration is causing anxiety in some quarters and optimism in others: the return of human rights to the global agenda.
Donald Trump’s open disdain for human rights was one of the earliest signs that his presidency would look like no other in the White House. Defending human rights around the world has always required a complicated balancing act, often—though not always—with a tradeoff between American interests and values. Under Trump, values consistently took a back seat. The only time he brought up human rights abuses was when he thought he could extract a personal political benefit, as in the cases of Cuba and Venezuela, whose human rights violations remain a top concern for voters in the key electoral state of Florida.
The approach will change under Biden. The incoming president is sure to disappoint some human rights activists, as have all his predecessors, but he will nonetheless bring a starkly different tone to foreign policy, one in which human rights will be discussed and even championed, both in private and in public.