Once upon a time, “moral relativism” — the tendency to draw comparisons between the conduct of the United States and its enemies — was the bane of American conservatives.
In his famous 1983 speech to the National Association of Evangelicals, President Reagan said, “I urge you to beware the temptation of ... blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire.” Reagan’s ambassador to the United Nations, Jeane Kirkpatrick, wrote, “There is no more misleading concept abroad today than this concept of … superpower equivalence.” In 2011, Rep. Paul Ryan, not yet speaker of the House, said, “If you ask me what the biggest problem in America is, I’m not going to tell you debt, deficits, statistics, economics — I’ll tell you it’s moral relativism.”
And throughout the Obama administration, conservatives excoriated the president for supposedly apologizing for past American actions such as the nuclear bombing of Japan — and for not doing enough to champion the doctrine of “American exceptionalism,” which holds that the U.S. is different from, and implicitly better than, ordinary nations. In 2015, for example, then-Gov. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana complained: “This is … maybe the first president ever who truly doesn’t believe in ... America as a force for good.”