America Finds Its Mr. Rights

July 17, 2020

When Secretary Mike Pompeo first set out on this journey to get back to the real heart of human rights, no one could have possibly predicted the year our country would have. Shaken by outrage, unrest, and the growing insistence that America is too flawed to fix, a return to our roots will only dredge up more hard feelings, some say. On the contrary, Pompeo insists. Maybe the best time to revisit all that's pure and good about our nation is when people are determined to destroy it. "Some say the report's timing couldn't be worse," he said. "I say the timing couldn't be better."

Pompeo's project, the creation of a Commission on Unalienable Rights, was a personal mission. Like a lot of people, he's watched activists try to expand the definition of human rights to suit their agendas on everything from free health care to college tuition, U.S. immigration, and abortion-on-demand. It was time, he decided, to clear the 72 years' worth of weeds that had cropped up since the world settled on its original Declaration of Universal Human Rights in 1948. Together with a handpicked team of historians, scholars, and philosophers, he was going to get everyone on the same page about our freedoms and where they came from. And, once they did, separate the real rights from the imposters.

A year later, with challenge and confusion gripping our country, Pompeo wonders if what his commission found might be the honest look at America our nation needs. While the mobs tear down our statues and desecrate our heroes, "they want you to believe the Marxist ideology that America is only the oppressors and the oppressed. I reject that," he said, standing across the lawn of Independence Hall. "It's a disturbed reading of America's history, it is a slander of our great people, nothing could be further from the truth of our finding." Some of our "best-educated and most highly credentialed citizens have lost sight of the fundamental vision" of this nation, he insisted.

"America is fundamentally good," Pompeo reminded his country. "... But it's true that at our nation's founding our country fell far short of securing the rights of all. The evil institution of slavery was our nation's gravest departure from these founding principles. We expelled Native Americans from their ancestral lands. And our foreign policy, too, has not always comported with the idea of sovereignty embedded in the core of our founding." Still, he urged, it's time to keep our eyes on the great strides our country has made. Without our founding principles, Pompeo went on, we wouldn't have a standard to see the gravity of our failings -- or, he insisted, have the "tools to ultimately abolish slavery and enshrine into law equality."

He's right. "If American history is reducible to racism," Walter Russell Mead writes in the Wall Street Journal, "and the principles of the Declaration of Independence are simply high-toned hypocrisy, why should other countries pay attention to U.S. human-rights advocacy?" But we, as a nation, are so much more than our failings. We insist on championing the oppressed, the persecuted, the disadvantaged because, Pompeo argues, "America is special. America is good. America does good."

And just because we pursue these values doesn't mean we always live up to them. "The experience of the United States," the commission argues, "teaches that protection of human rights is a never-ending struggle." But we can't do good -- at home or abroad, Pompeo said Thursday, "if we don't precisely know what we believe and why we believe it." Too many people want to bury what the Founders' believed about our God-given, unalienable rights so that they can twist the definitions into something new. Like organizations on the far-Left, who've spent the last several years cloaking their social agendas in the language of "human rights" for the purposes of global activism.

That's why we have to ask ourselves, Pompeo said, "Are our foreign policy decisions rooted in our founding principles?

Are the decisions consistent with our constitutional norms and procedures? Are they rooted in the universal principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights? Does a new rights claim that's being presented represent a clear consensus across different traditions and across different cultures, as the Universal Declaration did -- or is it merely a narrower partisan or ideological interest?"

It was, the report itself explains, one of the greatest testaments to that Declaration's legitimacy that "no U.N. member was willing to oppose them openly." For once, there was a genuine global consensus. It's time to get back to that -- to diplomacy and advocacy that speaks one language. Pompeo's commission is a chance for America to return to what matters, to the rich deep understanding that these rights come from God -- not governments, not courts, not multi-national bodies. And that understanding is not just what secures our freedom, he said on an FRC call Thursday night with pastors, but the freedom of different traditions around the world.

For more on the commission, this report, and what it means to the turmoil today, don't miss FRC's Travis Weber as he unpacks Pompeo's work on "Washington Watch."