President Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address last week with one mindset standing out in the 80-minute speech: nationalism.
Trump’s position of “America first” has remained relatively steady, showing itself in his foreign policy and immigration rhetoric. Though his proposals for immigration reform include some compromises, like a path to citizenship for Dreamers, the idea that American citizens should be preferred over others remains firm.
The argument goes that because Americans pay taxes and are invested in the U.S. government, they should be the only ones served in decisions made by that government. This thinking shows through in the decision to leave the Paris Climate Accords, talks of leaving trade deals and ignoring refugees in need of assistance.
The ideas are sold under the premise that policy is a zero-sum game. This is simply not true.
A basic American value is believing that different people can work together and be better for it. It’s the same reason Americans work to eliminate racism, sexism and homophobia; the country can function more fully when everyone is equally involved.
When the world adopts the mentality that everyone should look out for himself alone, people lose out on the valuable lessons, resources and cooperative power that could come with working together.
It’s through sharing ideas and power that disease, poverty and war have been reduced worldwide through cooperatives like the United Nations. These programs do cost money, but it’s money spent to save and improve human lives. It allows nations to proclaim together that all people are valuable, no matter where they are from.
When the U.S. refuses to accept refugees or support programs that don’t directly benefit us, we declare that foreign lives are not as worthy of existence as American lives. More than that, we forget our nation’s legacy of immigrants being a crucial part of the national economy and identity.
While I’m not advocating for the U.S. giving all of its resources to the welfare of other nations, it should foster an atmosphere of global cooperation, not competition. When we work together to clean up the environment, buy and sell more goods or improve nations in need, we actually serve our own interests.
Caring for the Earth through reducing pollution and minimizing climate change is good for every nation, including ours. The transition to clean power and less waste may negatively impact the economy at first, but it is necessary in preparing to succeed in the future. Other governments realize that a rising tide lifts all boats, whether economically or ecologically.
The same is true for accepting refugees. The next Steve Jobs or Jeff Bezos could be in the crowds that we welcome with the inscription of the Statue of Liberty. Even if the average immigrant does not create the most profitable company or become the wealthiest person on earth, he or she does help the economy, which is good for everyone.
As much as “America first” may be able to make a crowd shriek with excitement and pride, Americans, of all people, should know the power of working together, e pluribus unum.
Daniel Payne is a sophomore integrated marketing communications major from Collierville, Tennessee.