St. Louis University Law Journal
The former administration of Donald J. Trump shattered norms governing the responsibility to relay accurate, truthful information to the public. Whether regarding trivialities or vital issues of the day, the “Trump Doctrine” unleashed a global torrent of damaging misinformation and disinformation. This penchant for falsehood and distortion did not spare U.S. human rights policy. The administration’s decision to establish a Commission on Unalienable Rights (COUR) represented a high-water mark in its campaign to subvert international human rights norms.
After introducing key concepts relating to misinformation and disinformation, this article reviews the establishment of the COUR and the substance of its final report. Among other things, the COUR report prioritizes “unalienable rights” while dismissing other “lesser” or “newer” rights intended to protect vulnerable groups. Coupled with this hierarchical framing, the report aspires to freeze the substance of human rights as it was in 1948 and to invoke state sovereignty as a legitimate shield against international scrutiny of domestic human rights conditions.
With this background established, the Article explores how the COUR’s disinformation assault on the common political knowledge shared by democratic states operated to disrupt shared values while empowering authoritarian and illiberal actors. More damaging, this section also demonstrates how the administration compounded this disinformation fissure through its subsequent advocacy of selective elements of the COUR report for the purpose of prioritizing “religious liberty” at the expense of other rights, as well as the United States’ longstanding democratic alliances.
The final section of this Article reasons that restoration of the United States’ vital leadership role in the international community is contingent on repairing its commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights both at home and abroad. Despite the Biden administration’s swift, if perfunctory, repudiation of the COUR project, the Article concludes that an effective and durable rebuttal of its pernicious and lingering disinformation will demand more significant policy and educational change.
Blitt, Robert C., Human Rights and Disinformation Under the Trump Administration: The Commission on Unalienable Rights (2021). St. Louis University Law Journal, Vol. 66, 2021, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=4046025