It means that it is dead, doesn’t it? Sunset, not Twilight. Political efforts by beleaguered liberals in the United States may (or may not) suffice to prevent Trump from registering Muslims, torturing suspected terrorists, and suing newspapers. But these efforts will be focused inward: nothing will be left to compel him to promote international human rights law rather than cozy up with authoritarians like Putin. Indeed, the image of Trump touting human rights is ludicrous, unimaginable—not even with the malevolent sarcasm of Putin, who claimed that the invasion of Ukraine was necessary to protect the human rights of the Russian-speaking minority. Meanwhile, the other champion of human rights—the European Union—is at death’s door itself, besieged from within by nationalist movements and renegade member states like Poland and Hungary, and from without by Russia and the ever-present Islamic terrorist threat. A newly reinvigorated anti-liberal China completes the picture.
International lawyers and cosmopolitan political scientists will insist that the slack can, will, must be taken up by international institutions, like the various human rights committees, the UN Human Rights Council, the European Court of Human Rights, and the International Criminal Court. But none of these institutions—with the limited exception of the ECHR—were ever very effective, and the European system is now in disarray, while the ICC is on the verge of collapse, as African states and Russia abandon it. None of these institutions can survive without the money and political support of the states that are increasingly unwilling to tolerate their criticism. The question is: what, if anything, will rise from the ashes?