After Trump’s presidency there is a lot of talk about whether the United States remains a beacon light for democracy, human rights and the moral standing that Americans rejoiced in for so long. In fact, the idea of the US being a “city on a hill” is a relatively recent concept. The US Constitution, which is widely criticized today, was always seen as enlightened, but America’s practices were not frequently highly praised. What people now look back on as the good old days of democracy were days when segregation still existed, and a much higher percentage of the population lived in what we now call poverty and wealth inequality.
The State Department did not have a human rights bureau until the Carter administration created one. I had to write the first draft of the first human rights report on Brazil while I was working on the Brazil desk. Brazil still had a military government and had many black marks in its human rights record. I remember trying to make the report as positive as possible for Brazil, but always made more negative by the human rights bureau. I remember Mark Schneider and Michelle Bova particularly wanted the report to be more critical of Brazil. I suppose I had a case of “clientitis,” from having served in Brazil before working on the Brazil desk.
In any case, I don’t think “human rights” were nearly as important an issue earlier as they were in the Carter administration. There were the Nuremberg war crimes trials, but the Holocaust did not become a widely publicized event on everyone’s lips until years after World War II. It was a horrible thing, but there was no Holocaust Museum until 1993,
It is only in the last fifty or so years that the US has begun to proclaim its moral superiority to the world and demand other countries to equal our level of human rights protection. We should not be surprised if we and the rest of the world begin to look at our standing with a more jaundiced eye.