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Man, did that suck.
I just watched my country implode over the course of a sixteen minute speech.
Despite a general upturn of the American economy and downturn of violent crime over the last decade, Donald Trump has still managed to convince people in America that things are not going so hot. We are told to believe that American education has left "young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge.” We hear that crime and gangs have "robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.” One who has never been to America would think that we are a third-world country, and yet we still have the strongest economy on Earth and enjoy a generally high standard of living.
So where is all this discontent coming from? Where Donald Trump is right is that people feel like they are not winning anymore, that their life has somehow stagnated and that they are getting left behind. The world is moving too fast. Praying upon this emotion, Donald Trump has put forth a platform of “America First” as the bond that unites us. He has asked us to “Buy American and Hire American.”
As an American that lives in Finland and that works in Helsinki and Paris, I have just been told that I have no place in Donald Trump’s America. I certainly do not buy American on a day-to-day basis. The companies for which I work - Jongla and IRCAM - are as multinational as the UN and aim to be hubs of cultural exchange. I would never want them to “Hire American” or French or Finnish - I want them to keep hiring great people. I have been able to build this life because countless Americans have worked hard to create the Pax Americana and have promoted international exchange.
When Donald Trump says "Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families,” it certainly will not be benefiting my family. So what are we, the five-millionish Americans living abroad, to do? Go back home to reap the benefits of our Americanness? Be ashamed of our unAmerican lives? Trump’s Bible quote "how good and pleasant it is when God's people live together in unity” shows just how wrong he’s got it. The quote, likely written by King David, refers to his endeavor to unite various warring tribes and find peace. We have been trying to do just that since the last wave of international protectionism lead to two World Wars. Trump's use of this quote to justify the exact opposite is a perversion of the Bible and represents either a deep misunderstanding of Judeo-Christian culture or an intentional rhetorical fallacy used to ignite and mislead people.
The great irony of Donald Trump’s speech is that his message to the world “America First” is delivered via a vast global network of information exchange that exists thanks to the fact that “America First” has never been our slogan. Swedes, Finns, Singaporeans, Norwegians, and the Swiss are laughing their way to the bank. These nations, all of which have pulled ahead of us over the past 40 years in almost every measure, have done so precisely because they have made sustained efforts to learn foreign languages and engage in foreign exchange. As a result, they have been able to establish compassionate social support networks and build second-to-none education systems that will ensure their greatness for generations to come.
America should be doing exactly the same thing - creating the conditions to get our kids out into the world and welcoming the world to the USA. Instead, we are following the model of many Sub-Saharan African countries that, riling against internationalism, have democratically decided to turn inward over the past 40 years. This has led to economic stagnation, single-party rule and violent internal conflict. Do we really want that?
Donald Trump is not an idiot, nor is he particularly evil. He actually seems like a nice guy. I am flabbergasted as to why all this is happening, but my guess would be that his brand of populism creates a vicious, inward-looking cycle that energizes both the populist and his base in a hermetic cocoon. My sincere hope is that, by meeting more Americans and learning more American stories, his opinions will shift over time. In the meantime, however, the damage is already done - words have consequences, and the world will prepare to ignore America as America prepares to be overlooked.
We can idly accept the rhetoric of isolationism or we can resist. I choose the latter. I will continue advocating international exchange. I will continue living my life abroad. And, most importantly, I will continue to self-identify as 100% American and take pride in my patriotism, no matter how hard Donald Trump tries to define these terms for me.