With the Soaring Popularity of President Trump's Well-Branded Policy of Protectionism, Will 'America First' Truly Help or Hurt Our Country?
"America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration,” said then-candidate Donald J. Trump during an April 2016 campaign speech at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C.
No matter what opinions you may hold about the president, one must admit that he has done a decent job of implementing an America First foreign policy at all levels. However, the entire concept behind his agenda is neither new nor entirely a Trumponian political belief.
In fact, the slogan “America First” has been used by both Republican and Democratic politicians, mostly after the conclusion of World War 1. For example, Ohio Senator Warren G. Harding used the slogan to win the White House in 1920 and served as our 29th president.
But what does America First really mean for this country and how has this doctrine influenced the Trump administration over the past few years?
The concept of 'America First' is simply a well-branded, private label version of good-old-fashioned protectionism.
So, what is protectionism, you ask?
According to Wikipedia, protectionism is “the economic policy of restricting imports from other countries through methods such as tariffs on imported goods, import quotas, and a variety of other government regulations.
Proponents argue that protectionist policies shield the producers, businesses, and workers of the import-competing sector in the country from foreign competitors. However, they also reduce trade and adversely affect consumers in general (by raising the cost of imported goods), and harm the producers and workers in export sectors, both in the country implementing protectionist policies and in the countries protected against.”
It's no secret that President Trump has already proved himself to be a loyal and staunch supporter of protectionism. He has already imposed numerous tariffs on steel, aluminum, and a variety of other goods from China, and claims that unrestrictive trade policies — especially with nations that pay lower wages than those paid to domestic workers — cost domestic jobs.
Trump argues protectionist policies are needed to protect domestic businesses from foreign competition, and some well-known economists and business leaders would agree with him.
But is this the right move for America right now? Probably not.
In the realm of foreign trade, isolationist policies have historically only eroded American economic power.
What many Americans do not realize is that protectionism typically hurts consumers with artificially high prices while simultaneously increasing economic hostilities between nations. In fact, history has proven many times over that protectionism does not result in economic growth for any country that embraces it.
For example, in 2018, General Motors shut down a number of plants and eliminated more than 14,000 jobs due to an increase in steel tariffs imposed by the Trump administration.
That same year, according to an article published by Bloomberg, the Alcoa Corporation slashed its profit forecast by nearly $500 million due to the newly-imposed aluminum tariffs from China.
On top of that, the American Action Forum cites that President Trump’s trade war with China is increasing annual consumer costs by roughly $57 billion a year.
Obviously, the America First doctrine doesn’t just affect trade with China. The Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIIE) estimates that a 131-billion-dollar annual increase in income was lost due to the United States withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific-Partnership (TPP) trade agreement in 2017 as well.
Meanwhile, as the coronavirus pandemic has already claimed the lives of nearly 150,000 Americans, the Trump administration formally withdrew the United States from the World Health Organization (WHO) — another classic protectionist move.
According to the American Medical Association, American lives will be placed at “grave risk” due to the withdrawal from the WHO. Vital research needed to combat the spread of influenza strains, assess HIV/AIDS treatment initiatives, and control the spread of tuberculosis, for example, will likely no longer involve American scientists.
The WHO is by no means a perfect organization. In fact, President Trump’s claim that the organization was partial in favor of China is not entirely misleading.
In the early days of the coronavirus outbreak, the WHO actively discouraged action to prevent the spread of the disease. Taiwan issued a warning on December 31, 2019, that human-to-human transmission of the coronavirus was likely happening in Wuhan. The WHO ignored it, citing an investigation by Chinese authorities claiming that such transmission was not occurring.
On January 10, 2020, the WHO said in a statement that it did “not recommend any specific health measures for travelers to and from Wuhan,” adding that “entry screening offers little benefit.”
On the same exact day, China reported its first death from the novel coronavirus.
It is also worth mentioning that the United States was the organization’s biggest sponsor. During the WHO’s latest funding cycle, the U.S. contributed $893 million, which accounted for over 15% of the organization’s total funding.
The extent of technical cooperation between the global health agency and the United States has contributed to making the world healthier, safer, and more prosperous. President Trump’s concerns regarding the inefficiencies of the WHO are indeed legitimate.
However, now is not the time to isolate ourselves from the rest of the world. Now is not the time to abandon the practice of global cooperation, especially in the midst of a pandemic.
Now, while global warming isn't even close to being the hottest news story of the moment (pun intended), global cooperation is imperative for the survival of this planet.
Global cooperation is what persuaded China — a country that contributes most of the world’s CO2 emissions — to sign and ratify the Paris Climate Accord. The purpose of the agreement, of course, is to keep the increase in global average temperature to well below two degrees Celsius.
The Trump administration’s "protectionist" withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement clearly jeopardizes the physical safety of all future generations.
Not only must we reenact several environmental-protection laws imposed by previous administrations, but we must also cooperate with foreign entities to enhance the interests of all global citizens.
On that note, however, the president did move the United States towards ecological sustainability when he renegotiated the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The newly ratified United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) trade agreement provides, among other things, several protections for marine species, stipulations to improve air quality, and measures to establish sustainable forest management. However, more has to be done.
The America First foreign policy stance serves as a major disrupter for implementing solutions to the ongoing climate crisis.
In conclusion, the American First foreign policy agenda is unraveling the fabric of this nation economically, medically, and ecologically. Some achievements, such as ratifying the USMCA trade deal, have moved the United States away from the concept of isolationism, but the majority of moves stand to harm us in future decades.
The truth is, we need to reverse many of the protectionist policies the Trump administration has implemented and make significant strides toward re-igniting international collaboration.
The future of this country depends on it.
Article written by Jett James Pruitt
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