Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Making America Great again?

By Anthony:

Trying to make America great is not a bad thing in itself.  Patriotism is a good thing, and all people of all countries should be trying to develop and improve their nations, to make them great.  I’m all for it, and even for taking reasonable measures and reasonable military spending to keep our country safe.  I agree with C.S. Lewis that patriotism is a love of home, and how can you begin to love other people and other nations if you don't even love your own home first?  However, I feel very uncomfortable with a lot of what I hear politicians and other leaders saying recently about “making America great again.”  For some context of what I'm talking about, here are a few words from our President's inauguration speech:

"We've defended other nation’s borders while refusing to defend our own;
And spent trillions of dollars overseas while America's infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay.
We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength, and confidence of our country has disappeared over the horizon.
One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores, with not even a thought about the millions upon millions of American workers left behind."

"From this moment on, it’s going to be America First."

"Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.
We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs.  Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength."

Let me say at the outset of this post for those that don't know me, that I am quite conservative and most of the time I vote Republican.  Even so, these kinds of statements disturb me.  Many politicians and others seem to be saying: “Let’s make ourselves great by focusing on ourselves, our challenges, and our interests, and not worry about other countries and their problems.”  

Perhaps part of my discomfort is because I am a missionary and live overseas away from my home country.  So it's natural for me to care just as much about, say Kenyans, as I do Americans.  I understand why American Christians would think that we should care for Americans first. Even in the Bible, it is clear that there is an order of priority for who we should help first and care most about.  There are biblical commands stressing the importance of caring for our immediate families and our local churches (1 Timothy 5:8, Galatians 6:10).  It is natural and right to care more for those that you have responsibility over and for those that are close to you in proximity.  But I contend that caring for people close to us does not necessitate ignoring the problems of those farther away.

Let me explain why the statements about putting America first bother me.  There are several reasons:
  • This seems narcissistic or selfish on a national level.  I realize that a nation is not the same as an individual Christian, and the leaders of a nation do have a duty, given by God, to care for the interests of their citizens.  However, caring for our interests does not entail framing our national interests as “us vs. them.”  It seems very wrong to try to care for American interests if that means doing so against the interest of others or doing so while ignoring the terrible problems in the rest of the world and the vast numbers of people living in poverty, war-torn countries, etc.
  • Wealth is not a zero-sum game.  If China develops, or African nations develop and become more prosperous, it does not entail the USA becoming less prosperous.  Wealth is not a pie that has to be divided up into pieces.  Wealth can be created.  This has been a controversial argument at times, but it’s common sense when you realize that almost all people on the earth right now are far more prosperous and developed than people living in this world 500 years ago. See this article - A History of Global Living Conditions in 5 Charts.  Almost all countries are developing and standards of living are going up all over the place.  Why? Because we can develop and grow and prosper together.   We don't have to grow at the expense of others.  So it does not make sense to say that the USA is losing its wealth because other countries are starting to prosper.
    In addition, what I've learned from textbooks on development (and in every board game or video game that includes trading) is that if you work with other countries, instead of being isolationist, and you trade, then everyone benefits and develops.  When you try to grow on your own without working together with others, when you refuse to trade, you get left behind as everyone else grows.  Isolationism and wars keep everyone back.  The best way to grow prosperous is to allow for the growth, development, and prosperity of everyone.  So the USA should not be so self-focused and so paranoid about competition.  
    And besides, why is it the end of the world if another country surpasses the USA economically?  Don't we realize that many people, who are not American, living in other countries around the world, live very happy lives even though their countries are not the #1 economy in the world?  I imagine our fear of losing that #1 slot makes us seem very insecure in the eyes of other countries.

    I understand there is some fear that we are losing jobs in the United States to people in other countries.  I can't imagine how painful it would be to be unemployed and not know how you will support your family.  But I care about an Indian or African person having that pain just as much as I care about Americans dealing with that pain.  In our globalized world, these people seem to me to be just as much my neighbors as fellow Americans.  And the needs in other countries sometimes are 10 times more dire than the needs of the people in our country.  Is it really such an awful thing when a company hires Indians, instead of Americans? Shouldn't we be happy that those Indians are getting great jobs, jobs which can help them provide not only for their families but their extended families as well
  • The USA is already great, one of the most developed, prosperous, free, and just countries on earth.  As many challenges and moral problems that we have in the USA, we are still one of the great nations in this world.  Even many of our poorest people in our nation have very good standard of livings compared to people in the rest of the world.  And we have a country with wonderful freedoms and so many good innovations.  And our country has been at the forefront in trying to make many good moral changes in this world.  In the worldwide Church, our theologians, song writers, biblical translations, commentaries, pastors, theologians, aid workers, doctors, etc. are influencing people all over the world.   Are we really so insecure about our prosperity?  Are we really in that bad of shape in the USA?  Do we really have to live in fear and rally the war cry of putting the USA first?
  • Part of what makes the USA great is all the great things we've done in the world, such as our generous aid to help people in other countries.  If we were to stop and focus only on ourselves, we might be great in our own eyes, but would we be great in the eyes of people around the world?  Would we be great in God's eyes?   In other blog posts, I have been very critical of aid.  But please understand me.  I'm not against aid and generosity.  I'm only against how some of the aid is distributed and how in some cases it causes dependency or encourages corruption. But I would love for Americans to give even more aid and be even more generous.  I also hope that we can do so in a wise way that helps instead of hurting.  Part of what makes us great is our service to other nations around the world, whether we are fighting to eradicate disease, welcoming in refugees and immigrants, providing relief food after disasters, sending our military to protect the innocent, or promoting freedom and democracy.  Were we to stop these things and focus only on ourselves, we would start to become more insignificant, rather than greater. 
All those arguments aside, how do we think about this as Christians?  At the end of the day, we have to remember that before we are citizens of the USA, we are citizens of another Kingdom, the Kingdom of God.  The USA is not my home.  Kenya is not my home.  This world is not our home.  We look forward to our true home, the renewed heavens and earth, the Kingdom of God, the fellowship with our Lord Jesus face to face. 

While I need to respect the leaders of my earthly nation, it is to my King Jesus that I owe my ultimate allegiance, and my King laid down his life to die for me, while I was yet his enemy, enslaved to sin.  He calls me to follow his example.  As he has forgiven me and loved me, so I am also called to forgive and to love, even my enemies.  My King calls me to live a vastly different life than those around me.  It is my
 King who said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."  I live and serve and struggle and love ultimately not for the good of my nation, but for my loving King, who is the King of all nations and all people.


  1. Thank you for these words of reason...I am SO PROUD to know you both!!

  2. Thank you for the encouragement :)

  3. Anthony -- I very much share your perspective. Only one thing I would add to the benefits of trade is that it must be FREE trade. If we are completely free to trade with others (no tariffs, special deals, political pressure, hidden information, etc.) to benefit our self-interest, that trade will also by definition benefit the other party even if we don't "care" about them.

    Thank you for taking the time to put in thoughtful words what many of us are feeling. I believe God is using the current political situation(s) around the world to remind his people that we (as you said) owe our ultimate allegiance to King Jesus. When we have "reasonable" Christian-lite political leaders it's easy to forget that!

    Praying for health and strength for you and Sara.
    -- Sharon

  4. Yeah. I don't think that Mr. Trump is worthy of the presidency, but he was elected by many who fear that America's economy is going down the tubes and that we should be isolationist and narrow-minded.

    It's true that industrial jobs have been lost and that we are no longer the supplier of goods to the world as we were for decades. In that sense, America is not the great powerhouse we once were. Many long to see us return to that position of economic dominance. And I understand their concerns, but I agree with you that we still have a responsibility to be a positive force in the world, and encouraging other countries' development and prosperity is part of that.

    Building positive relationships with countries is important, and if we so focus on our own goals that we stop developing relationships, then we will not only be shirking our responsibility, but likely adding fuel to the arguments of our country's enemies.

  5. Thanks Anthony for putting your concerns/thoughts out there. I don't think there is anything you said that I disagree with. As I again coordinate two perspectives courses this semester, your message is very in line.

    I would suggest (without defending or dumping on President Trump), that, like it or not, this is his way of communicating. I think it is quite likely that he really has no intention of isolationism or harming other countries, or not helping countries in need. Too often, we tend to take his words (meant for effect?) too literally. I have no idea going forward what he will do (good or bad), but I do tend to agree with his desire to right all the wrongs (economically, socially, security issues, etc.) that he believes have been done by our government in the last many years. Perhaps we will find that the efforts by Trump and his administration will indeed, in many respects, 'make America great again' all the while helping other nations to improve also?

    1. That's very true. He may well have just said these words for effect, but then still continue to work well with other countries. Let's hope for that!

  6. I was deeply comforted by Piper's reminder that Christian's are FREE from the State. Of course we are called to invest where we are but we ultimately are not under the rule of the government. Thanks for voicing your concerns, Anthony. This could begin a time of more persecution for believers here.

  7. Wow, there is so much that I would like to say, and this is not the place to say them all. I wrote an article about what making America great again would look like, and I have written numbers of articles on the responsibilities of our government. These are all posted on my blog
    But briefly, from the Preamable of our Constitution, the purpose of our government, the one that we fought a war to be able to establish, is to promote the welfare of the people of the United States. In Trumpspeak, that would be called America First. When an American company builds a plant in another country to make goods to send back to the US, the President is right to try to bring those jobs back to the United States. My question is: who makes these same products for that other country? Do they need to make products for the United States in order to have jobs? Do they drive cars? Who makes their cars? They can't make their own cars?
    There is just too much here to comment on. Maybe somebody would want to read the whole articles.

    1. Thank you for the comment Larry. Do we know each other? Yes let me clarify - I don't have any ill-will for the president trying to make sure Americans have jobs and giving incentives for companies to stay in the US. My point is that that issue should not bother us so much as it tends to because we should remember the benefit going to those people in other countries, as well as the benefit we have from such relationships. Our countries in this world are very interconnected. We eat food in the US grown by people in other countries, while we also send our products around the world. I don't see this as a bad thing. You say - "They can't make their own cars?" Can't the US get it's own natural resources and own products, why do we get any from other countries? Of course trade makes sense. I don't see why it's wrong to buy cars from other countries, or why it's wrong for other countries to buy cars or anything else from us.

  8. As usual Anthony, I really enjoyed reading your perspective on American politics. It is very easy for us to lose a global perspective in the U.S.. I also find that the rhetoric has become so divisive here. I am reminded of the old hymn I love, "May the mind of Christ, my Savior, live in me from day to day. By His love and power controlling all I do and say."

  9. HAHA!! What a great blog!! Anthony, judging by that one pic you said made ur hair look silly I personally think you'd look great with a man-bun. Man-buns have become the latest craze in the states, I believe this pic is a sign!