Abraham Lincoln once said, “My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth”(Lincoln qtd. in “Abraham”). It is not too late to achieve this dream. The Constitution clearly states in the preamble that the sole purpose of the U. S. government is “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” (U. S Constitution, Preamble).
This purpose has been severely muddled since America has taken up the ‘indispensable’role of policing the world, sometimes overlooking domestic issues that still have not been solved to this day. Without the consideration of its people, America can never truly succeed as a democratic nation- a republic with a “government of the people, by the people, for the people” (Lincoln “Gettysburg“). The United States should carry out more internal policies and focus on “America first” because a stronger domestic foundation is necessary before reaching out internationally.
Throughout history, America’s policies have shifted according to national interests. In the early years, the fledgling United States of America was struggling to find its footing, and with the establishment of a central government came a unity of purpose under the Constitution. To develop this nation on the purpose stated before, the American government opted for a neutral stance among world affairs. This ideal changed with European matters that could not be ignored, which eventually erupted into the War of 1812, and the acquisition of new lands which ushered in an era of expansion.
Though America advanced in new industry, technology, and the exploration of the western territories, the new frontier relit the flame of sectionalism, or loyalty to particular regions over the support for unity of the country, that divided the nation on the issue of slavery. The Civil War took hold of the divided nation for four treacherous years, and the conclusion brought in an era of questionable Reconstruction. The nation was growing in what was labeled the Gilded Age, introducing a powerhouse of industry and a closing of the frontier.
Unprecedented prosperity gave rise to the American Dream that pulled immigrants from all over the world and offered a new sense of American identity. This new wealth birthed the following Progressive Era, also known as the Age of Reform, at the turn of the century, which not only fortified domestic progress but opened the doorway to global expansion and colonization. Soon this Manifest Destiny on a global scale would lead to involvement in the First World War.
A trend of isolationism emerged after WWI, and during this period America entered into the Roaring Twenties, an era of luscious indulgence to forget the tragedies of the war. This prosperity did not last with the world depression that caught up with the U. S. with the 1929 stock market crash. With the help of President Roosevelt’s 100 days legislation, the nation was somewhat alleviated, but across the pond, tensions were bubbling over. After two years of declared- but not enforced- neutrality, America was pulled into the fray of World War II . From here on out, America’s efforts were projected elsewhere.
Following the Allies victory of the war, President Truman led the nation into an undeclared Cold War era, a time where it was declared that the United States, coming out on top at the end of WWII, would be responsible for aiding those countries in need and contain the threatening forces of Communism and nuclear war around the globe. This policy of containment would further guide the United States for the next fifteen years, through the Berlin blockade, Korean War, and the Cuban Missile Crisis; President Nixon ushered in an era of detente, the easing of hostility (“Detente”), for the following eventeen years throughout the end of Vietnam War.
The last stretch of the remaining twelve years of the Cold War is a time that is called the “Second Cold War”, which spanned through the Soviet-Afghan War. With the division of the U. S. S. R. at the end of the Cold War, came a “New World Order” that centered around the hope of an idyllic worldwide cooperation, put to test in the Gulf War of 1991. For a brief time under President Clinton America scaled back on foreign policy spending until the War on Terror that began after the September 11th, 2001 terrorist attacks.
Today, America is sitting in the position of one of the most powerful nations on earth, one that presents itself as indispensable. America, in establishing itself, especially within recent decades, has sacrificed the purpose of its people’s welfare for the search of a purpose abroad. The history of this superpower lays down the country’s foundation and its reputation for the world. The image of America has shifted from the underdog to the one on top.
Americans are born into a proud society that tends to present itself to other nations as boasting the values of opportunity, freedom, progress, and decency (Chopra), and despite this prideful attitude that one could very easily mistake for arrogance, America’s overall image around the world remains largely positive. Across the nations surveyed (excluding the U. S. ), a median of 69% hold a favorable opinion of the U. S. , while just 24% express an unfavorable view. (Wike) (Wike) Fig. 1 This chart shows the median of favorability for the U. S. n 39 countries in the year 2015. The exceptions of unfavorability are Russia and several middle eastern countries.
Despite high satisfaction of America in the world, a Gallup poll shows that overall satisfaction on the way things are going in the United States is on a downward trend, situated at 30% satisfaction rate as of February 2017, about 40% lower than satisfaction rates eighteen years ago in January of 1999 (Gallup). How is it that the United States possesses higher approval ratings among foreign countries than at home? The answer lies in America’s extensive oreign policy initiatives with a lack in focus on domestic issues. America’s foreign policy seems to overstep domestic policy in its consideration of funding and importance. The shared burden of keeping the peace globally has become eye-crossingly difficult to follow, making it hard to decipher not America’s purpose of involvement but the best course of action for America (Gelb, Heilbrunn).
It has come to pass that in the decades of America searching for a bigger purpose, it has lost itself by becoming extensively involved in the world diplomatically, economically, and militaristically. Transition. It was said by George Washington that America must “Observe good faith and justice towards all nations; cultivate peace and harmony with all”(Washington). “ Harmony and good faith with all” has yet to be achieved, given tensions still remaining post-Cold War era, but according to the United States Department of State record of American diplomacy, America’s positive diplomatic relations span over the majority of the world (“Countries”), there being only three countries with which the U. S. has no diplomatic ties: Iran, North Korea, and Bhutan (Schiavenza).
While diplomacy with other countries is necessary in today’s day and age, as there are some things that can only be solved or prevented by global cooperation, this coming in the form of the United Nations, to have American time, energy, and resources spanned out across the globe is not always what is necessary or best, especially if there are not any gains for the U. S.. In the founding years of this nation, George Washington warned of the influence and dependence of other countries, specifically in diplomacy, “The nation which indulges towards another a habitual hatred or a habitual fondness is in some degree a slave.
It is a slave to animosity or to its affection, either of which is sufficient to lead it astray from its duty and its interest” (Washington). Indeed, America has become a slave in some ways to the world, both in friendly alliance and hostile enmity. Again, diplomacy is not problematic if positively reciprocated, but it is not always welcome, and it can take away from internal needs. The world economy is another major area of concern for all nations. Trade has been essential since the dawn of civilization.
The effects of one nation’s economic shortcomings can be devastating for the entire world. It is nearly impossible to be a successfully isolated nation without relations with other countries due to limited natural resources and export revenue. However essential trade and economic involvement is for the whole of any nation, it would benefit America to heed George Washington’s advice on economy and foreign counterparts, “The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have them with as little political connection as possible…
Here let us stop… even our commercial policy should hold an equal and impartial hand” (Washington). With a more ‘no political strings attached economic policy, America could keep from the economic burdens of alliances, such as that of Israel, which could in turn put more American money back in the economy at home. Not surprisingly, the United States military is one of the most extensive militaries in the world. A budget of $582. billion for the Department of Defense has been proposed for the Fiscal Year of 2017, presenting that the Department of Defense as “the largest institution with the largest budget in America” (Carter). America also has its military stationed in at least twenty-seven countries (Zorthian), more than any other country. Is all of this is carried out to fulfill the purposes of national security and world peace? How many of these countries actually threaten the United States?
The involvement of America’s military is utterly unnecessary if not overkill. America has been searching for its purpose in the world through its foreign relation pursuits. In February of 1899, Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem that is considered a “hymn to imperialism” (“White”), so titled “The White Man’s Burden”. As satirical as the piece may appear to be at first, this poem was meant to express the very real beliefs of imperialists of the time, such as President Theodore Roosevelt.
Take up the White Man’s burden Send forth the best ye breed, Go send your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need To wait in heavy harness On fluttered folk and wildYour new-caught, sullen peoples, Half devil and half child “Take up the White Man’s burden In patience to abide To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride; By open speech and simple An hundred times made plain To seek another’s profit And work another’s gain (Kipling) This idea of blatant superiority and oppression being performed as a favor to these ‘inferior’ nations/races, especially those like the sovereign Native American nations, African Americans, Filipinos, and Hawaiians, to name a few, relates directly back to the mindset that drove the expansionist years. One could say that President Roosevelt’s imperialistic* actions of the time in the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico was another step in fulfilling America’s “Manifest Destiny”.
The phrase coined by John O’Sullivan defines the belief that America’s purpose is essentially, by divine providence, to spread American values, such as democracy, across the North American continent (O’Sullivan), and later applied to the colonization of developing countries that became American territories. “The far-reaching, the boundless future will be the era of American greatness. In its magnificent domain of space and time, the nation of many nations is destined to manifest to mankind the excellence of divine principles… ” (O’Sullivan 427). This concept predates the phrase as an American ideal, one that gloats, “America is the greatest nation on Earth and everyone should be like us. ”
The reality of this statement is highly exaggerated. Some people ctually believe that America is the single-most ‘indispensable’ force on the planet and that it is the only nation capable of bringing to the table the leadership that the world so desperately needs (Bremmer 28), and they will fight for the necessity of the use of hard power, and extensive involvement everywhere. Of course, if America would suffer from other nation’s misfortune, one would believe that the right thing to do is help the other nation, so it would be a win-win situation, or if a nation is threatening, it is within the bounds of American jurisdiction to take care of the problem out of self-defense. The issue* lies in the way that such situations have been handled in the past. Most instances of such justifications of action have been handled in a way that expresses the overbearing “I’m better than you” American spirit.
When America ‘helps’ a nation, it does so by implementing the country’s ‘successful structure, which in reality, is still experimental in nature, and America does so in a way to “work another’s gain” (Kipling). Moreover, America has also taken up arms against countries who refuse to accept ‘help’. Take for instance North Korea. Furthermore, in many areas of general welfare and leadership, America has fallen short, of being graced with the title of ‘Best Country on Earth’. If this title were of desire to attain, America would need to take a step back and focus on what has been neglected, the welfare of its people, and stop trying to always be in control.
Self-care is not selfish. “Our ancestors… ad the courage to declare their political independence of every other nation upon earth. Shall we, their descendants… declare that we are less independent than our forefathers? ” (Bryan 234). America is too far gone to even think of economic independence, and to be noncommittal to any nation otherwise is possible but not probable, but it could be beneficial to the country if Americans used the time normally spent on foreign relations to narrow their focus and to achieve unity at home that it has so sorely needed since its establishment. As the late Martin Luther King Jr. put it, “we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values” (King). A bit of attention to internal affairs is long overdue.
Domestic issues have been and still are somewhat overlooked, but why should they be? During World War II, President Roosevelt set a new standard of foreign policy that was a long time coming for the still suffering America, . In his 1941 State of the Union Address, Roosevelt presented a new objective for American foreign policy, a policy that reflected America’s egotistical belief that it is essential to the growth of other nations. In the future days, which we seek to make secure, we look forward to a world founded upon four essential human freedoms. The first is freedom of speech and expression — everywhere in the world. The second is freedom of every person to worship God in his own way — everywhere in the world.
The third is freedom from want, which, translated into world terms, means economic understandings which will secure to every nation a healthy peacetime life for its inhabitants — everywhere in the world. The fourth is freedom from fear, which, translated into world terms, means a world-wide reduction of armaments to such a point and in such a thorough fashion that no nation will be in a position to commit an act of physical aggression against any neighbor — anywhere in the world. These are the Four Freedoms, the call for “moral order”. (Roosevelt) From then on out, America broke out of its isolationist shell to be the savior of the world, combating poverty, hunger, and any threats to war that arise, securing what he called ‘moral order’ among all nations.
It is from this idea that the Truman Doctrine and Marshall Plan were conceived, bringing forth years of near domestic neglect as America set out to rid the world of imminent threats. There is a call to “rededicate ourselves to defending the core freedoms that have animated our nation… ” (“Four”). America is plagued with problems, such as poverty, violence, disease, hunger, homelessness, drug smuggling, debt, unemployment, etc. , that have not been considered as much as they should be. There are also deeper sociological philosophies that rip at the very foundation of humanity. These issues should, by default, take precedence over the world’s affairs in the eyes of the U. S. Government.
America underwent a revolution against the tyrannical rule of England in 1776 in order to establish itself as an independent country upon the Enlightenment ideas of natural rights to “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson 1). Proud patriots, men and women alike, banded together and fought for a government that would guarantee their rights and representation. When Jefferson wrote “all men are created equal” (Jefferson 1), it was not, at the time, intended to include anyone who was not an entitled white male, and it would be nearly ninety years before African Americans were considered citizens with rights to vote and nearly 144 years before women in America were granted suffrage.
It was only about fifty years ago that Civil Rights were granted to African Americans, and there are still battles being fought for Women’s equality today. A survey from Pew Research Center relates that “Barely half in the U. S. (51%) think their government respects individual freedoms today” (Wike). America was founded upon the fundamental rights to equality and freedom, but these things are not as guaranteed as one would think. Among all of these issues lies a common theme: divisiveness. Political divisions and social divisions: race, gender, economic status. From the very beginning, starting with the rivalry of Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Jefferson, politics have divided this great nation.
The mindset that one person can be better than anyone else has brought centuries of suffering to millions of people just for their race or their gender. In order to achieve greatness, to establish a new ‘moral order’, Americans must open their eyes to these shortcomings, and Americans must open their minds to better understand each other. This issue of division, or any of these may never be solved, but a nation might come close if. as a human race, realize that everyone bleeds red and that everyone must be compassionate, understanding, and respectful. Since the dawn of man, there has been judgement, ridicule, and unnecessary hatred over differing ideas and philosophies.
Maybe once this shift in the majority of Americans outlook has been achieved on a smaller scale of one nation, the potential of America’s greatness can be reached and the success of it can radiate out to the rest of the world The United States should become more independent and establish a stronger foundation at home before offering itself elsewhere. A country is only as strong as its foundation, and at the base of the United States of America is its people. America must undergo an awakening and realize that “A house divided against itself cannot stand” (Lincoln “House”). Once America has re-established itself as one, unified nation, it can spread the light of its true eminence. As this country moves forward, Americans must consider how bettering themselves can, in the long run, better the world.