On Friday, we recognized the sixth anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting that left 26 students and staff dead. There have been 1,920 mass shootings since then, and the United States still has the most gun deaths of any country in the developed world, as well as the weakest gun laws.
Last week, a court said Cyntoia Brown would have to serve at least 51 years in prison for killing a 43-year-old man she said hired her for sex as a teenager and threatened to kill her. Here, in the U.S., we have only 5 percent of the world’s population, yet 25 percent of its inmates.
In the last few weeks we’ve also seen escalation at the border, where migrants seeking asylum (including children) have been tear-gassed and detained. And just a few days ago, we learned of a 7-year-old migrant girl who died in Border Patrol custody.
If the Trump administration were truly trying to make America great again, it would be paying attention to issues that inherently keep us from being great, like the deaths of children in mass shootings, our flawed prison system, and the institutionalized racism that leads to violent reactions against any foreigner trying to enter our land.
Yet President Donald Trump and his supporters prove time and again that they would rather shift focus and fight with migrants and refugees than show any concern for issues taking place within U.S. borders.
If the Trump administration were truly trying to make America great again, it would be paying attention to issues that inherently keep us from being great.
No one displays this more than the infantile caricature of patriotism that is Tomi Lahren. In midst of all that happened this week, in her continued ideological crusade for a border wall, she tweeted, “$5 billion spent on a wall will be the BEST $5 billion taxpayers EVER spent! Build the wall. Secure the border. America FIRST!”
Lahren scrapes the bottom of the barrel of political commentary, using hyperbole and sarcasm to create media uproars. So, when 11-year-old Mari Copeny responded to this tweet and it’s more problematic ideas on Twitter, Lahren found herself bodied by a young girl from Flint, Michigan.
Copeny tweeted, “$5 billion for water infrastructure upgrades and testing in schools seems like a much better way to spend that much money...but what do I know...I’m just a kid from Flint who was forced to learn all things water after the government poisoned us.”
Copeny points out the sad reality that to truly put “America first” isn’t to simply protect hypothetical people from hypothetical threats, but to recognize the rampant poverty, death and leeching identity-based oppression that damages Americans and takes their lives every day.
There are countless issues facing America that we could tackle, that would communicate that we care about our people. We could fight racialized violence at the hands of the police, or protect transgender people’s rights (instead of trying to take them away). We could more holistically create equity for impoverished communities, women, those with disabilities and LGBTQ people.
We could care about the reality that the U.S. glorifies active military but discards its veterans, we could seek peace instead of violence. But that would require us setting aside our fear first, something that the United States has never been able to do.
We use our national funds to be against many more things than we are for. We would rather spend on defense and military than care for the poor within our borders. In simple terms, what good is defense if the people you are defending don’t have access to clean water, like in the case of Flint, or they’re among the 40 million people who experience food insecurity every year?
To do good is not to double down on bullying the rest of the world in an attempt to put ourselves first, but to work for the betterment of our country and others.
“America First” should mean actually looking at our current realities, not just preventing our politicized and often hyperbolized fears from being realized. Only a country with great fear would spend as much as we do to prevent ourselves from harm. America is trying to use force, violence and bullying to change ideologies, and all it is doing is creating fear, not freedom.
It has become clear that the U.S. can largely no longer tell the difference between patriotism, propaganda and nationalist rhetoric. Because, let’s be honest, a border wall is more political flexing and institutionalized racism than it is a protective measure against undocumented entry.
The Trump administration seems to believe that greatness only happens behind the barrel of a weapon, on the other side of a wall, or through seizing more and more global political power. We aren’t great, at least for all people, and no amount of bullets, walls and rhetorical violence will make us great.
To do good is not to double down on bullying the rest of the world in an attempt to put ourselves first, but to work for the betterment of our neighbors, cities and country by taking a good look at those who have gotten left behind in our attempts to put our fears, racism and power first.
Brandi Miller is a campus minister and justice program director from the Pacific Northwest.