Presidential Human Rights Talk

19 Pages Posted: 18 Jun 2018 Last revised: 9 Oct 2018

Date Written: July 15, 2017


In response to Professor Harold Hongju Koh's March 2017 keynote at Washburn University, "The Trump Administration and International Law," this essay examines the diplomatic and political rhetoric deployed by past presidents in support of human rights to argue that such "presidential human rights talk" represented an important element of U.S. human rights policy and promoted the transnational transmission of human rights norms. President Trump's complete abandonment of presidential human rights talk signals an end to what remains of American "human rights exceptionalism." Combined with Trump's "America First" approach to foreign policy, which rejects the value of the international institutions the U.S. helped build and sustain over the past 70 years, the end of presidential human rights talk may also mark the end of U.S. human rights diplomacy.

Keywords: International human rights, presidency, Trump Administration, human rights policy, American exceptionalism, transnational legal process

JEL Classification: J33,

Suggested Citation

McGuinness, Margaret, Presidential Human Rights Talk (July 15, 2017). Washburn Law Journal, Vol. 56, No. 471, 2017; St. John's Legal Studies Research Paper No. 18-0020. Available at SSRN:

Margaret McGuinness (Contact Author)

St. John's University - School of Law ( email )

8000 Utopia Parkway
Jamaica, NY 11439
United States

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