The administration of President Joe Biden continues to roll back misguided policies of the Trump era. Not all these actions are grabbing headlines, but they’re important and shouldn’t be overlooked.
Here’s an example: The U.S. State Department, we learned last week, is putting an end to a Trump policy that emphasized far-right theological views in international relations.
Under former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, the department was guided by a Commission on Unalienable Rights. The name may sound harmless, even positive, but don’t be fooled. This entity, yet another sop to Trump’s Christian nationalist allies, elevated extreme definitions of religious freedom and property rights over other types of human rights and downplayed persecution against LGBTQ people abroad.
The change had been heavily criticized by human rights advocates, and now the commission is no more. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced on March 30 that the Pompeo/Trump approach was formally being scrapped.
“One of the core principles of human rights is that they are universal,” Blinken said. “All people are entitled to these rights, no matter where they’re born, what they believe, whom they love, or any other characteristic. Human rights are also co-equal; there is no hierarchy that makes some rights more important than others.”
Blinken added, “Past unbalanced statements that suggest such a hierarchy, including those offered by a recently disbanded State Department advisory committee, do not represent a guiding document for this administration. At my confirmation hearing, I promised that the Biden-Harris Administration would repudiate those unbalanced views. We do so decisively today.”
Critics accused the Trump administration of downplaying women’s rights, reproductive freedom and LGBTQ rights in its approach to international relations. For example, the Trump administration removed sections detailing attacks on women’s reproductive rights abroad in its annual human rights report. The commission, which was stacked with conservatives, was chaired by Mary Ann Glendon, former U.S. ambassador to the Vatican and a high-profile opponent of legal abortion and LGBTQ rights. (The LGBTQ-rights organization GLAAD issued a report noting that seven of the commission’s 10 members had made anti-LGBTQ statements in the past.)
Christian nationalists heralded the Pompeo/Trump approach because it supposedly emphasized the fact that rights are “God given.” The administration also tied its approach to extreme forms of “America first” nationalism.
Pompeo clearly saw the creation of the commission as part of his legacy. He said he hoped that his approach to human rights around the globe would guide future administrations. That's not going to happen. NBC News reported that nearly “all references to the commission’s report and Pompeo’s advocacy of it have been removed from the State Department’s website”; they remain only as archived pages.
That is precisely where this misguided approach to human rights belongs.
Photo: Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Screenshot from U.S. State Department video.