By William Keenan
‘America First’ is the mantra that Donald Trump rode to election in 2016. This anti-interventionist and nationalist position advocated for greater promotion of and focus on U.S. businesses and citizens and a reduced role for the United States on the world stage. This position has been advocated for by others in the past, especially by Pat Buchanan during his rise to prominence. Trump’s ‘America First’ policies specifically, however, have damaged the United States and its interests almost beyond repair.
First, Trump began a ‘trade war’ early in his presidency with rising global power and key trading partner, China, claiming that China stole trade secrets, violated patents, and hacked United States companies. This trade war has taken a toll on the U.S. economy, with farmers and companies faring the worst. Pork, soybean, and corn prices have fallen exponentially because China ― the world’s leading importer of soybeans ― has turned to other countries such as Brazil.
To keep up with the tariffs, farmers have needed to raise the prices of their goods in order to turn a profit. Consequently, China has pivoted even further, prioritizing trade with other countries who offer the same goods at what now is a comparatively lower price. In the automotive sector, General Motors (GM) has closed five North American plants due to the additional cost of $1 billion imposed by the metal tariffs, a decision which could potentially lead to price increases of automobiles. To avoid this, GM has laid off thousands of U.S. workers and opened plants in countries that are not currently affected by the U.S.-Chinese trade war, allowing themselves to buy and sell at a normal rate.
On another note, President Trump’s tendency towards impulsive foreign policy struck again as he announced, well, — tweeted — that he would be pulling troops from Syria, leaving Kurdish allies as the last line of defense against ISIS and like-minded terrorist organizations. While it is true that ISIS has lost a majority of its territory and soldiers, a move to abandon U.S. allies in the Middle East could lead to problems down the road, which in turn may lead to future administrations needing to deploy more boots on the ground to combat a resurgent ISIS and potentially radicalized Syrians.
Leaving Syria also creates a power vacuum that other actors, especially Russia and Turkey, will seek to fill. Russia has been eyeing oil and gas fields in ‘useful Syria’ for years, and Turkey may look to expand their existing territorial encroachment in the country. An elongated, costly proxy war could be on the horizon for the United States, potentially resulting in more U.S. lives lost in the Middle East.
Another decision costly to the United States was President Trump’s leaving the Paris Climate Accords. While this decision did not affect many American citizens directly, the indirect repercussions certainly have taken a toll. This high profile departure is one part of the broader laissez faire environmental and deregulation policies undertaken by the Trump Administration — all of which have directly impacted and affected American citizens.
For example, Trump rolled back a key Obama era environmental policy, the Clean Power Plan. This plan, finalized in 2015, was projected “to add tens of thousands of renewable energy jobs by 2040 in addition to generating up to $54 billion in health and climate benefits, avoiding 90,000 childhood asthma attacks, and avoiding 3,600 premature deaths in 2030 due to reduced air pollution.” On April 3, 2017, President Trump eliminated the plan. Not only would this plan have added jobs and strengthened the economy, it would have saved and protected American lives from the effects of climate change. President Trump wants to save short-term jobs in the fossil fuel industry while jeopardizing the health of Americans and eliminating future ‘green jobs.’
The Trump administration’s cuts to food programs will also put Americans last. Earlier this year, President Trump unveiled a proposal that would remove up to 3.1 million Americans from food stamp rolls across the country. Under the proposed rule, the US Department of Agriculture’s SNAP Program would “no longer provide benefits to families solely because they are enrolled in food assistance programs run by the states where they live,” meaning that just because a family qualifies for state benefits, they would not automatically qualify for federal benefits.
This proposal would endanger the food security of millions of Americans who depend on federal funds to provide food for their families. Republicans will pivot and claim that SNAP Programs are another example of ‘wasteful government spending’ — but fail to recognize that SNAP costs approximately $68 billion annually which compared to the nearly $600 billion doled out via military spending is nothing. If the US can afford to bomb and invade foreign countries, the least they can do is feed their citizens. Cuts to SNAP benefits will make hardworking Americans hungrier, lead to a tougher time escaping poverty, and disadvantage a significant portion of Americans.
President Trump has repeatedly shown that his actions harm Americans. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is still clear to see that through environmental rollbacks, unpredictable foreign policy decisions, an ongoing trade war, and proposed cuts to social service service programs, he does not put America First.
Photo courtesy of the Trump Administration (Flickr).