Rahim Islam is a National Speaker and Writer, Convener of Philadelphia Community of Leaders, and President/CEO of Universal Companies, a community development and education management company headquartered in Philadelphia, PA. Follow Rahim Islam on FaceBook (Rahim Islam) & Twitter (@RahimIslamUC)
Today, America is clearly the world’s foremost superpower. It is also the most developed country in the world, which mandates that they not only lead globally but they must also lead at home. That leadership must include addressing the racial divide along with the alarming poverty levels that exist specifically in our rural and urban communities. We know that poverty isn’t merely a racial issue, White America has its share of poverty. However, the economic disparities that Blacks experience has its roots in structural racism – something that has yet to be acknowledge in any real way by American business and political leaders.
AMERICA CAN’T MAINTAIN ITS GLOBAL LEADERSHIP WITHOUT ADDRESSING THE ISSUE OF RACE AND POVERTY AT HOME – ANYTHING LESS IS HYPOCRITICAL.
I believe that America must do more, and more is demanded when it comes to global affairs. But, I also believe that America should double down when it comes to home. I likened it to when a person who spends more with his neighbors than with his family – this is not a good look. I’m not a separatist or an isolationist because I think our domestic issues should command as much, if not more, than our global attention. In fact, I’m extremely proud in the cases when America is the solution and not the problem when addressing global issues because I realize this is part of American values, and this is the type of leadership the world needs. Equally, America has several very tough issues that it must address which requires a different type of leadership – failure to do so will impact America’s ability in the future.
When much is given, much is expected – I believe that this is an American value. America must give to under developed nations its technology, its financial resources and its leadership because it’s the right thing to do. America is by far the world’s largest economy based on gross domestic product (market value of all final goods and services from a nation in a given year). The facts are that America is nearly 40 percent stronger economically than China, the world’s #2 in GDP followed by Japan and Germany. In addition to economic prowess, America has the largest military and nuclear arsenal in the world, and should remain so by having the dubious distinction by spending a third of all global military spending on its own military defense.
With nearly 1.4 billion people living in extreme poverty in the world, America has the dubious distinction for being the consumer of world’s resources (i.e. water, power, food, etc.) – something that is magnified when you combine America with the other develop nations. America is by far the biggest user of the world’s resources. With only less than 5% of the world’s population, Americans hold almost 34 percent of the world’s total wealth and consumes nearly 25 percent of the world’s global energy which requires that America remains a strong global leader. These are very extreme measures that give America natural enemies and detractors which requires that America continue to have the largest State and Diplomatic apparatus along with the biggest foreign aid budget in the world. These facts and others require that America remains a leader internationally.
Like it or not, America must play a leadership role in the world. In many respects, this is not about charity, this is about necessity and self-interest (a large percentage of resources are outside of America). While there are natural and political camps in the world, the world is very competitive, and each country is fighting for economic and political market share. Every country in the world expends a great deal of resources and energy trying to either increase their position on the international stage, or at the very least, maintain their position. With the world becoming more inter-connected and inter-dependent, now more than any time in history, insignificant events that happen anywhere in the world could have a domino effect on America and the entire world. This is why the world, even though they don’t like it, craves and needs a world leader to ensure world order.
When the world has a problems or when countries have disputes, they must turn to someone (i.e. United Nations, NATO, World Trade Organization, G20, G8, etc.) and many times America is the de-facto leader that they have maintained for nearly 100 years. America is long past the point of being able to separate ourselves from the global and intertwined system. Our technology, markets, and our capital are all connected, therefore, our interest are as well. It is just simply impossible to ignore what’s going on in the world (i.e. Europe Middle East, Far East, Africa, etc.) without creating a worst problem for our children in the future (kicking the can down the road).
The world needs America’s leadership, but can’t lead without maintaining its moral position. Donald Trump’s election has given rise to the separatist and isolationist approach to international affairs which is not only shortsighted but ignorant. The entire world responded negatively when Trump withdrew from the Paris Accords mainly because of the leadership role that America plays in the world. There is a difference in leadership based on might, versus leadership based on right and America must strike a balance between helping and supporting other nations versus intimidation and/or being a globalized police force (nation building). Both not sustainable, and ultimately will undo America’s moral leadership. Barak Obama’s letter to Trump was dead-on:
“American leadership in this world really is indispensable. It’s up to us, through action and example, to sustain the international order that’s expanded steadily since the end of the Cold War, and upon which our own wealth and safety depend.” Barack Obama
In many ways, America is the envy of the world and is the global leader. It is not because of the size of its military or its tremendous wealth, but rather because it has the moral authority to do so. Moral authority is authority premised on principles and the ability to weigh in on discussions involving what to do about some very tough issues and the capacity to convince others of how the world should be. To understand America’s moral authority to be the global leader one must understand American culture, beliefs, and values that is embodied in its people and the concept of democracy. In spite of America’s checkered history, America has been on the “right” side of history which is supported by the masses of its people.
The concept of democracy is the biggest reason why the entire world pays attention to what America does and says. The world believes that America represents a government for the people and by the people; the belief that the supreme power of the government is vested in the people and the politicians work for the people. America, in spite of its many flaws, is perceived as the land of opportunity especially among immigrants (minorities) because the country is able to provide them with a variety of life options that they would not have had in other countries, such as economic stability and educational resources. In addition, a democracy is best defined in how it treats its minorities and it’s poor.
America has been living a lie. America has the will to lead globally but lacks the will to lead domestically. Not widely known is the high level of families and children living in poverty and near poverty in America especially when compared to other developed nations – Blacks have highest disparity when it becomes to families and children living in poverty. Making matters worse for Blacks is the structural nature of failed public education and now the mass incarceration of Black men – both ensure that the poverty levels will maintain themselves or get worse. The treatment of America’s poor and American Blacks is absolutely hypocritical and requires that not leading isn’t something to be proud of but it should be viewed as an enemy to democracy.
Unlike many other countries, democracies are judged by how well they empower and protect their minorities (i.e. religious, ethnic, class, etc.) because democracy is about majority rule with minority rights that is protected and embedded in the constitution. Democracy is supposed to help the poor by creating economic opportunity and access to opportunity. Poverty and near poverty are increasing in America and not just for Black and Brown people – White people are extremely frustrated by the economic conditions known as the wealth and income gap.
The gap between the rich and the rest has been much wider in the United States than in other developed nations for decades – the middle class has shrunk. Without becoming socialist, which capitalist have defined when addressing these disparities, America can no long accept the massive levels of wealth and income inequality. The richest 1 percent of Americans grew 58 percent and capture 93 percent of the income gains – this is not a sustainable model, nor does it represent American values. Politicians and business leaders must do more to transfer income from the affluent to the less fortunate and the other way around. Republicans and Democrats must align on areas like wages, education, housing, healthcare, small businesses development, taxes and many other areas at the end of the day help to bridge these gaps.
America must do more than what it’s doing now if we’re ever going to resolve poverty and racism. In fact, America must completely change its approach. Sure, we have to address some of the optics of racial divide (i.e. confederate flags, statues, etc.). American leaders must truly commit to the concept of Diversity across the board (i.e. employment, management, governance, and contracts) throughout the entire economy (i.e. public sector, large nonprofits, private sector, etc.). In addition, American leaders must, not only look at the current outcomes (baseline), but examine the pipelines that produce the current outcomes – the legacy of slavery.
AMERICA MUST SEE THE PLIGHT OF THE BLACK GROUP AS A PRIORITY BECAUSE THEY CREATED THESE CONDITIONS AND IT’S THE RIGHT THING TO DO.