Opinion: Can Biden presidency fix everything?

Sheeraz Qurban

There is an opportunity for a fundamental change of course after four years of an indifferent president to human rights. After four years of a president who was indifferent to human rights, the November 2020 election of Joe Biden to the presidency of the United States provides an opportunity for a fundamental change of course.

Kenneth Roth , Former Executive Director of Human Rights Watch, states in his essay

Donald Trump was a disaster for human rights.

At Home:

  • He flouted legal obligations that allow people fearing for their lives to seek refuge.
  • He ripped migrant children from their parents, empowered white supremacists, acted to undermine the democratic process, and fomented hatred against racial and religious minorities.
  • He also closed his eyes to systemic racism in policing, removed legal protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, revoked environmental protections for clean air and water and sought to undermine the right to health, especially for sexual and reproductive health and older people.


  • He cozied up to one friendly autocrat after another at the expense of their abused populations, promoted the sale of weapons to governments implicated in war crimes, and attacked or withdrew from key international initiatives to defend human rights, promote international justice, advance public health, and forestall climate change.
  • In spite of its efforts to condemn abuses, the US government suffered from this destructive combination. Islamophobia at home undermined support for religious freedom abroad.

For their involvement in human rights violations, the Trump administration imposed targeted sanctions and other punishments on Chinese governments and companies. But with its own weak human rights record, its mixed motives in criticizing Beijing, and Trump scapegoating China for his own pandemic failings, these interventions aren't principled at all, so it's hard to work with allies.

It would be naïve to think a Biden presidency could fix everything?

With the arrival of every new White House resident in recent decades, US human rights policy has undergone wild oscillations as a consequence.

George W. Bush’s “global war on terror,” with its systematic torture and Guantanamo detentions without charge, was an earlier nadir.

Barack Obama rejected the core parts of it, although he maintained and even expanded such elements as unlawful drone attacks, intrusive surveillance, and arms sales to unsavory autocrats.

Policy reversals, both at home and abroad, have become regular features in Washington.

It will not be enough for Biden to respond to Trump by simply turning the clock back four years, as if an abandonment of Trump’s policies can reverse the devastation he caused. -Kenneth Roth

As the world has changed, so too must the promotion of human rights change with it. Mr. Roth believes that many rights-respecting nations have responded to the void created by Trump’s indifference and hostility to human rights by stepping forward and playing a more active leadership role. He suggests that the Biden administration should join that enhanced defense of rights, not seek to replace it.

Meanwhile, Biden needs to recognize that Trump has magnified the traditional shifts in policy between US administrations into a crisis of credibility for Washington and a profound risk to the rights of people in the United States and around the world.

Biden should strive to reframe the American public's appreciation of human rights. This will ensure that the US commitment becomes entrenched in a way that is not so easily reversed by his successors. The sustained role of the US government as a useful ally in safeguarding human rights worldwide depends on Biden’s triumph.

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