Throughout one of the most polarizing presidential races, then-candidate Donald Trump vowed that he would “Make America Great Again” by putting “America first.” A harsh critic of the Obama administration, Trump criticized former President Barack Obama of entering trade agreements in which the United States suffered higher costs internally at the expense of aiding developing countries abroad.
This rhetoric signals a shift from the globalist perspective shared by previous presidencies towards a more isolationist and thus nationalistic perspective. Originally, it appeared that average Americans did not share Trump’s view on America’s role in international affairs: many Americans would vehemently agree that foreign workers should be paid a livable salary, and would condemn entering into any form of agreement with a country that violates human rights.
However, there’s just one condition, which illuminated itself when looking into what Americans believe are important factors when entering into trade agreements: America must come first, and the rights of international citizens abroad should be an afterthought.
According to a YouGov survey, 69 percent of Americans believe the overall benefit to the United States economy is a very important factor that should be considered when entering into a trade agreement. However, only 42 percent of those surveyed believe the overall wages trade partners pay to workers and just 44 percent of those surveyed believe the trade partner’s human rights record are very important factors to consider when entering a trade agreement. Evidently, the philosophy and rhetoric of “America First” has had a stronger effect on the American public than many presumed.
A beacon of democracy and a symbol of hope, the United States has a responsibility as a world superpower to invest in the developing world by spearheading international aid initiatives and championing human rights.
American democracy was founded on the notion that each individual has certain unalienable rights that cannot be taken from them. By putting “America first,” the current administration is undermining the foundation of American democracy. How can we claim to put “America first”, and yet support foreign governments that exploit workers and neglect to pay them a living wage? How can one claim to uphold democratic ideals if putting “America first” means entering into business agreements with countries that deprive their own citizens of life and liberty?
As evidenced by the number of products entering the United States with Fair Trade Certification, the United States government can find alternative trade partners that can guarantee the safety of the livelihoods and lives of their workers. This should be the norm for America’s trade agreements, not an outlier.
Is it really “Making America Great Again” if Americans, by putting “America first,” are neglecting the ideals on which this very country was founded? “America first” is not just an economic issue, it’s a moral and human rights issue.