November 3rd’s Unseen Stakeholders

Next week, Americans will decide which presidential candidate best suits their interests and the interests of the country. To make their decision, voters will examine President Donald Trump’s performance on a plethora of issues, from the economy to the pandemic response. 

However, there are many groups of people who won’t be voting but have a huge stake in the outcome of the election. These include undocumented immigrants, lawful permanent residents, and even children. But by far the largest of these groups is people who don’t live in the United States. As the preeminent global superpower, the policies the U.S. implements have a huge impact on millions or even billions of people outside of our borders. These are people whom most voters have never met, seen or even thought about, yet for many of these people, this election could literally mean the difference between life and death. 

So rather than talking about the impact that Trump has had upon the lives of Americans, this week, I’m going to discuss the effect that another term of the Trump presidency will have on everyone else. These people can feel far away, so their interests aren’t often discussed, but they too deserve to be a part of this election’s conversation. 

Millions of people around the world have felt the negative effects of Trump’s presidency, often to a degree unimaginable to Americans. For example, look at the administration’s use of sanctions. Sanctions can be used as an economic tool to force regimes to change their behavior, but they are also deeply flawed and often unsuccessful. Because governments control the distribution of resources, sanctions often end up hurting people without political power rather than the intended regime. 

Take Venezuela. Since 2017, the United States and its allies have imposed crippling sanctions on the country to discourage the anti-democratic behavior of its leader, Nicolas Maduro. While not entirely responsible, the sanctions have helped to cripple Venezuela’s economy. Today, 96 percent of Venezuela’s 30 million people live in poverty. Hyperinflation and unemployment have led to widespread hunger and disease. In 2017, it is estimated that each Venezuelan lost an average of 25 pounds due to malnutrition. So far, instead of driving Maduro out of office, the sanctions have just helped ruin the lives of countless Venezuelans while Maduro consolidates more power. 

Of course, Trump is not solely responsible for the tragedy unfolding in Venezuela. Much blame must also go to Maduro for his economic mismanagement and refusal to compromise. Yet the sanctions have undeniably exacerbated the situation, and Trump’s decision to unwaveringly oppose the Maduro regime has left the Venezuelan people as collateral casualties. This is all the more ironic because Maduro’s regime is no threat to the American people. Rather, the Trump administration argues that the sanctions are intended to help the Venezuelan people gain democratic leadership. It seems clear, however, that many Venezuelans would much rather the U.S. stop its high-minded embargo and instead help them get a basic meal. 

A similar situation exists in Iran. After taking office, Trump rapidly veered away from President Barack Obama’s conciliatory approach to U.S.-Iran relations and adopted a strategy of “maximum pressure.” That policy involves significant sanctions on Iran’s population of 81 million. And over the past four years, the sanctions have hit hard, increasing Iran’s household inflation by 42 percent in 2019. Yet Iran’s government remains non-compliant, because ordinary citizens, not the administration, feel most of the sanctions’ effects. Most notoriously, the sanctions prevented the import of medical supplies during the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic. Since Iran was one of the first countries to be affected and served as a critical vector for the disease, it’s no exaggeration to say that Trump’s Iran sanctions facilitated the worldwide spread of the pandemic. 

Trump’s sanctions aren’t limited to Venezuela and Iran. It’s a similar story in Cuba, Myanmar, Syria and elsewhere. The populations of these five countries alone total over 193 million, three times the total number of people who voted for Trump in 2016. Perhaps the suffering of these people serves American interests, but there seems to be little evidence to suggest that it has. In any case, the sheer human cost of these activities should give voters pause.

Sanctions are the most direct, but certainly not the only way the American president can affect the lives of people outside the United States. Trump’s domestic failings have also had wide-reaching international consequences.

Last semester, my co-columnist noted the parallels between threats of Covid-19 and climate change, both of which affect the whole world. While critics of Trump’s inaction on both Covid-19 and climate change focus on the domestic impact, Trump’s actions also have major consequences elsewhere. The rapid spread of the virus in America expedited the virus’ spread to the rest of the globe. Similarly, America emits over 1/8th of the world’s greenhouse gases. Regardless of the actions of the rest of the world, America exerts a huge influence on the floods, famines and fires in the rest of the world.

Trump is not the only American leader who must bear the blame. I haven’t discussed the wars in Afghanistan, Yemen and the rest of the Middle East, for which much of the blame falls on former Presidents George Bush and Barack Obama. That said, the fact that Trump has not acted more vigorously to end these humanitarian catastrophes reflects poorly on him as well. 

Traditionally, American voters have ranked foreign policy issues as among their lowest priorities. At some level, that makes sense. Foreign policy doesn’t have as immediate of an effect on the lives of Americans as domestic policy. But Americans shouldn’t just vote based on personal interest. The United States is so politically, economically and militarily entrenched in the global order that virtually all of its policies, whether domestic or foreign, have a huge impact on the livelihoods of people in other countries. Because of the international power the country wields, American voters have a moral obligation to hold presidents accountable for their impact on foreign populations.

America is a global power, and it’s time that voters acted like it.