‘America first’ puts struggling Americans last

By Wendy Min Source:Global Times Published: 2017/8/23 19:38:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Despite being a developed superpower and having an affluent image in the imagination of many, America suffers from poverty. What is most dire about this situation is the stubborn persistence of this poverty and the accompanying inequality. Alarming changes to the budget as proposed by President Donald Trump worry Americans.

I spoke about this with my friend William, who shared his experiences and thoughts on the important issues that many are either oblivious to or are selectively ignorant of.

"America is faced with many pervasive issues, all waiting to be resolved. It is far more effective to work on our own issues rather than to pick a fight with everyone else," said William.

America's recent trade investigation against Beijing, nuclear tensions with North Korea and continuous international meddling in other countries' affairs are not making America great again. Ongoing fascism and white supremacy as seen in Charlottesville, issues surrounding inequality and racism as well as Trump's budget plans and policies, which will cut the lifeline for many, are not placing the dignity and welfare of Americans first, William pointed out.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, has been providing basic food for millions of Americans. Although poverty and going hungry is not often associated with the US and certainly the American dream, it is a reality for many people. Whether they are looking for work or are the working poor, families are struggling to put food on the table. Trump's proposal to cut nearly $200 billion out of the Food Stamp Program over the next few years as well as to make changes to the program's eligibility rules will result in many failing to receive this much-needed subsidy.

I've always known that regardless of how developed a country is, poverty will always remain an issue. However, I was taken aback when I saw that US Census Bureau statistics showed 15.5 million American kids live in poverty - that is one in every five children. This number far exceeds all other developed countries, yet the federal budget for these vulnerable members of society is a fraction of what other countries spend. When I mentioned this, William reminded me that poverty numbers, be they for minors or adults, far exceed this official figure. "The poverty rate was designed in the 1960s. Things are a lot different nowadays," said William, who sees people from all different social classes as part of his job.

Education in the US is a costly affair. William, who is currently studying to be a cardiologist, knows this all too well. "Yes, I'll start work owing a few hundred thousand dollars, but I am fortunate that the industry will allow me to pay it back." Education can pull many out of poverty, yet when poverty forces people to drop their studies, this is the most tragic situation, especially for a nation like the US.

Instead of making education easier and more affordable, budget plans will cut back more than $10 billion in education aid as well as making changes to a debt-forgiveness program which was initiated to encourage more fresh graduates to work in the public sector as a means to repay their student loans. Such programs are about helping the most vulnerable to climb out of poverty and up the economic ladder. However, Trump's proposals in cutting back education support and worsening the affordability of education are worrying to say the least. There are further plans to cut mental health services, affordable public housing and healthcare, William pointed out.

After talking to William, I asked myself: What exactly is the meaning of "Make America great again" and "America first?" I don't see any equal opportunities or a sense of enduring and shared prosperity. Instead, I see Nazi flags and violent clashes. I see people who struggle alongside those who are privileged yet out of touch.

The American dream has been assaulted on all sides not by evil countries such as China, Russia and Iran but by American politicians and policymakers. America belongs to the people, and in order to truly ensure that America stays first, the opportunities for US citizens must not be threatened by detrimental policies. Instead of investing in ammunition and launching aggressive foreign policies targeting other countries, more should be done to support the vulnerable and the underserved, including in the US.

The author is a freelance writer. She was born in China, raised in Australia and educated in China, Australia and France. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn Follow us on Twitter @GTopinion

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