Levy: America First puts America Last

COVID-19 has highlighted how “America First” does the country more harm than good.

by Gabrielle Levy | 4/16/20 2:00am

The international reputation of the U.S. has suffered greatly as a result of its response to the coronavirus pandemic. Our lack of preparation to ensure a sufficient supply of protective equipment for health care personnel, coupled with President Trump’s insistence that he had the spread of the virus “totally under control” as the U.S. surpassed every other nation in terms of coronavirus cases, has shown that America does not always do it best. Even worse, we have failed to learn from and cooperate with other nations who can, in some cases, do better.

Trump’s “America First” stance on foreign policy calls for American nationalism, protectionism and isolationism, at the expense of international cooperation and commitments. His “Make America Great Again” slogan, likewise, defines dominance as the sole measure of success. In this time of crisis, it is clear that putting ourselves first is actually harming our country. 

Despite the heroism of American health care personnel, the U.S. has handled the coronavirus pandemic relatively poorly. Recent headlines have overwhelmingly focused on Trump’s failure to prepare for the pandemic and the high death rate plaguing New York City. A recent survey has even shown the U.S.’ global reputation at rock bottom. Global leaders generally remain unimpressed with such things as the fierce competition among American states for medical supplies and the lack of coherent social distancing rules and guidelines. 

On the other hand, American and international newspapers alike have been amazed by the ability of other countries to respond effectively to the global crisis. Take the so-called “German exception.” Despite its central location in Europe and high number of reported cases, Germany has seen few coronavirus deaths relative to its European neighbors, Asian countries and the U.S. Some suggest that Germany’s remarkably widespread testing and the high favorability of its government are to thank for its high survival rate. 

Unlike the U.S., by the time the coronavirus reached Germany, the country had already built up a stockpile of test kits in its laboratories, allowing doctors to diagnose patients early and treat individuals while their chances of survival are higher. Consequently, in contrast to President Trump’s falling approval ratings, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s approval ratings have been soaring, and her social-distancing measures have been met with little opposition. What’s more, Germany has cooperated with other nations to increase the effectiveness of its own response and to help other countries in need. For instance, the German air force has brought Italian patients to receive treatment at German hospitals and has firmly stated its intention to cooperate with China. 

This isn’t to say that Germany is a utopia. The point is that the U.S. could learn and benefit from international cooperation, instead of insisting on doing everything on its own. Trump’s policies and actions have emphasized a commitment to supporting American interests and American interests alone. Trump cut Centers for Disease Control funding for efforts to prevent pandemics, shut down the global health security unit of the National Security Council and froze funding for the World Health Organization during an actual pandemic. These actions demonstrate his beliefs that the U.S. both does not benefit from cooperating internationally and is not obligated to do so. We likely have the “America First” doctrine, along with Trump’s prejudicial rhetoric, to thank for the absence of a global coalition to combat coronavirus.  Trump’s brand of American selfishness is thus detrimental as it undermines international partnership and cooperation — things that are necessary in times of global crises, such as pandemics.

It is clear that the Trump administration’s “America First” policies are doing the country more harm than good  — the sooner American politicians accept this and admit this to the international community, the better.