New York Times (Editorial)
March 4, 2017
Throughout history, American presidents have declared it their job to protect and advance the interests of the United States and its citizens. President Trump has shoehorned that wholesome, uncontroversial idea into a narrow-minded, exclusionary governing platform that’s likely to alienate much of the world while hurting the very people whose cause he claims to uphold.
In his campaign, his Inaugural Address and, most recently, his speech to Congress, Mr. Trump has proudly embraced the isolationist “America First” rallying cry from the 1930s while rejecting the internationalism of his predecessors. He has disparaged NATO, an alliance that has helped keep the peace in Europe for more than half a century; cozied up to Russia and its latter-day czar, Vladimir Putin; disdained global solutions to global problems like climate change and the surge of refugees from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere; and declared his intention to upend the international trading system created by the United States and its allies. Nowhere is his cramped vision more evident than in his scapegoating of unauthorized immigrants as criminals and his rejection of the American ideal of welcoming the foreign-born.
A GO-IT-ALONE APPROACH
Of late, Mr. Trump has seemed to back off from some of his views, as in his assertion on Tuesday evening that “we strongly support NATO.” But it is unclear what that will mean in practice, especially since Defense Secretary Jim Mattis repeated Mr. Trump’s threat to “moderate” America’s commitments to NATO if the allies don’t pony up more for defense.
In one breath Mr. Trump tells Congress, “Our allies will find that America is once again ready to lead”; minutes later, he says: “My job is not to represent the world. My job is to represent the United States of America.” No president can claim to represent the world; yet since World War II, all have accepted, even celebrated, America’s unique power and ability to lead in promoting democracy, peace and free markets. The word “democracy” did not appear in Mr. Trump’s speech, something that should have been central to this address. And he said little about working with allies on common interests.
One retreat from world leadership can be seen in Mr. Trump’s proposal to cut funding for the State Department and foreign aid by as much as 37 percent. Many in Congress have expressed opposition to these reductions that, if carried through, could force the downsizing of already understaffed embassies, curtail communication with other governments and multilateral institutions, and devastate programs that help feed starving people and support keeping the peace.
Of all the manifestations of Mr. Trump’s nationalism, the one most obviously calculated to appeal to the disaffected workers in his political base are his repeated claims that China, Mexico and other countries are stealing American jobs and wealth, and that the only way to stop this is for the United States to withdraw from bad trade deals and impose border taxes on imports. His protectionist pronouncements are, like much of what he says, reinforced with inaccuracies and exaggerations, as in his assertion that America’s trade deficit ($502 billion in 2016, not $800 billion as he said) is the reason tens of thousands of factories have been shut.
Demonizing imports is just plain wrong. Phones sold in the United States count as imports from China, but they are only assembled there from components produced all over the world, including in America. And California-based Apple pockets most of the profit from those sales. More than one-tenth of the total trade deficit is accounted for by petroleum products, essential commodities. The country also imports components that go into products made in the United States, like Boeing airplanes and Ford cars. And trade benefits American consumers through lower prices and more choices.
By raising tariffs and canceling trade agreements, the Trump administration will needlessly hurt American businesses and workers while antagonizing friendly countries. A far better approach would be to insist on stronger labor and currency standards in trade agreements while helping American workers and industry by investing in education and infrastructure.
Mr. Trump’s instinct to wall off the world exacts its greatest human toll on America’s immigrants. The unfortunate human consequences of Mr. Trump’s punitive policies tend to obscure the economic consequences of keeping people out and deporting those already here, but these effects are real. Mr. Trump selectively cited a 2016 National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report when he told Congress that immigrants cost taxpayers “billions of dollars a year.” The report actually says that over the long run immigrants and their descendants contribute more in taxes than they use in government benefits. It also finds that immigrants have a “very small” impact on the wages of native workers, and adds, “Immigration is integral to the nation’s economic growth.”
That is because immigrants on the whole tend to be younger than the native-born population, so they are more likely to be working and paying taxes, and less likely to be collecting benefits. Many undocumented immigrants and workers on temporary visas pay into Social Security and Medicare without ever benefiting from those programs. Skilled foreigners in particular help the economy and native-born workers by starting businesses and creating new technologies — about half of 87 start-ups valued at more than $1 billion had one or more immigrant founders, according to a 2016 study.
It would be beyond foolish for America to withdraw into a shell. The country is not diminished, but strengthened, when it engages with the world.
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