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How will citizens of the world look after the coronavirus crisis ends?

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I always found the phrase “citizen of the world” to be an interesting one. Speaking it literally makes no sense, and little good comes from debating it. If your aim is to identify with the seven billion other inhabitants of this planet across different lines, “member of the human race” seems a more accurate means of conveying that sentiment. Citizens are recognized by their countries, and using the term as a nod to universal solidarity dilutes the privileges and solemn responsibilities that come with it. But using the flawed but harmless concept of global citizens, which seemed to peak in the United States with the rise of Barack Obama, has been heard far less frequently since the arrival of Donald Trump and his nationalist brand.

However, serious questions must be addressed regarding the role of the United States on the world stage once the coronavirus pandemic is a blip in the rearview mirror of history. Will this once in a generation global crisis make our leaders strive for more international trust and camaraderie? Will countries reduce the barriers to trade and information sharing and move toward a unified goal of preserving humanity? Or will it accelerate those trends of “America First” and the British Brexit toward tighter borders and more independence, led by the notion that governments and economies closest to their people are the most capable of meeting their needs?

As a young American conservative, I was raised to support a country that had strong international influence. The high costs of foreign aid, overseas military forces, and membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, were said to be necessary for the United States to extend its reach and to serve as a beacon of hope while battling communism. Free trade was the logical means of sourcing the manufacture of goods to the most efficient markets, with the loss of domestic jobs countered by lower prices and the theory that higher skilled positions would take their place. Liberal border crossings allowed for the inflow of cheap labor, with the integration and social welfare costs offset by greater overall consumption. The relative isolation during the 19th century was replaced by a new world order.

Yet an inward pivot will certainly be enticing to a society exhausted by the coronavirus pandemic and eager for a fresh start. Scaling back foreign aid and military deployments, whose value many already question, will seem an appealing way to refocus on domestic priorities such as infrastructure. Outsourcing the manufacture of goods from smart phones to toilet paper to medicine has left the United States overly reliant on foreign countries and our leaders asking if more tariffs and other means of bringing back jobs are needed. It is hard to imagine anything but tighter borders and stricter immigration policies justified, rightly or wrongly, by a desire to reduce the infections and further strains on our health care system.

The right balance, as with most issues, resides somewhere between the two extremes. It is entirely justified to reassess much of the conventional wisdom in foreign policy that has prevailed since World War Two. Decades of adventurism in the Middle East and a costly overseas military presence did nothing to prepare the United States for this current global crisis. The American pursuit of inexpensive consumer goods has enabled China, with its extensive history of human rights and environmental abuses, to control a wide range of necessary supply chains across some critical industries.

As we now add $2 trillion of relief spending to our $20 trillion of national debt, the next shoe to drop could be China calling in its vast holdings of Treasury bonds, which will cause demand for the dollar to plummet and financial markets to further panic. While the United States has broken its dependence on foreign energy, it has still handed too much economic leverage to the countries that do not have our best interests in mind.

But isolationism cannot be the answer for us. Any military and diplomatic retreat by the United States will create a vacuum of leadership that would promptly be filled by China, Russia, and other hostile actors. While basic economics may not allow the United States to become the manufacturing hub it once was, there are abundant opportunities to turn to Mexico and other markets in Latin America, Africa, and Asia for production and labor opportunities. Immigration is vital for our population and prosperity, but legal and illegal flows have become so politically charged that each side has retreated to an all or nothing approach. There are legitimate national security reasons as to why immigration needs to be controlled, however, blaming immigration for the coronavirus pandemic is not one of them.

So while we continue strengthening our country during this time, we must also plan for our international role moving forward. This is not as simple as globalism versus isolationism. There is a smart middle ground from where we can build on what works, learn from what does not, and charge ahead. We may not technically be citizens of the world, but we can certainly learn to become better people and better members of the global community.

Joseph Moreno is a former federal prosecutor at the Justice Department and a United States Army combat veteran. He currently practices law in Washington. You can follow him on Twitter @JosephMoreno. The views expressed in this column are his own and are not those of his employer.

Tags Coronavirus Government Immigration International President Security

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