Appreciating the Global Good

Barack Obama is one of the smartest Presidents that we’ve ever had. So smart that he leads in a way that he creates massive big-picture progress for the country and the world — but these benefits that are often beyond the understanding of his own people.

The biggest example of this on the domestic front is Obamacare. Research shows that it has saved tens of thousands of lives. But the most important benefits are those that are hardest to see on the surface. Detaching health care from employment has increased economic mobility for workers in this country. People are no longer handcuffed to dead end jobs because they don’t want to put their family’s health at risk. This freedom has put upward pressure on wages, and it has also increased entrepreneurship. The number of new businesses and patents in the US has never been higher. We’ve added 11 million jobs in the last 6 years, 14 million since the depth of the recession. Yes — some of those are part time, but some of that is by choice — people now have the ability to work only part time without losing their health insurance.

However, the people who get the biggest benefits from Obama’s most controversial achievement are some of the poorest among us, and therefore, those who are often heard from the least. The people who bear a bigger burden financially don’t feel the benefits that they are getting from a growing economy on a visceral level. But they are undeniably there. On the other side, business owners bear the brunt of higher costs and higher turnover. Higher income families are paying $5000 more a year in health care premiums. Business owners and higher earners see these direct negatives — but they don’t connect them to the positives — that business has increased, they’re making tens of thousands more per year, and their home or business value has increased by six figures. Our lizard brain instincts tend to marginalize the benefits of our situation and focus on threats and perceived injustices. Meanwhile, demagogues like Donald Trump encourage that short-term feeling of petty resentment and victimization, and in doing so gain blind allegiance from the short-sighted and small-minded.

This article from Zack Beauchamp at Vox focuses on the way this big-picture approach has affected Obama’s foreign policy. It’s a stunning contrast to the foreign policy disasters of George W. Bush. GWB responded to a single attack by a group of 20 men by starting two wars that will cost our nation 2 trillion dollars, tens of thousands of lives, and left us no safer than when we started. 9/11 did not cripple our nation. It was our short-sighted, fear-driven, emotionally driven response to 9/11 that cost us more than any terrorist attack ever could. We are the Goliath on the world stage. The Davids can’t beat us unless they turn our strengths into weaknesses. In our case — our strength/weakness is massive size and cost of our military. When we go to war, it costs our government trillions of dollars that could be spent investing in our own country. By acting “strong” in the short term, we can weaken ourselves for decades. Our nation is still recovering from the Cowboy misadventures of George Bush’s cavalier invasions and misguided nation-building. And yet again, our lizard brains, our “low intelligence,” has a very short memory.

Power hungry warmongers depend on that. It takes a much braver man to resist the pressure of small-minded bellicose would-be Napoleons and keep us out of conflict than it takes to rush a nation off to war. Obama has created huge economic benefits for our country by *not* taking the bait of ISIS and entering ground wars in the middle east. But again, the benefits of not starting wars are very abstract, and he gets much less credit than he deserves.

And yet, if you asked 100 Americans if ISIS is an existential threat to our country, 80% of them say yes. That’s freaking ridiculous. 99.9% of Americans will never be affected by anything ISIS does unless America chooses to overreact and get into a ground war in the middle east. ISIS’s greatest weapon is our irrational fear. Isn’t it wonderful that we have a president who has resisted it?

To me, the final and most important piece of Obama’s worldview is a mixture of domestic economic policy and foreign policy.

The world is smaller than ever before. The global economy is more connected than ever before. And the huge inequalities between countries have giant implications that ricochet through our lives.

America BENEFITS from this economic inequality every single day. If you live in the US, you live a life that billions of people across the globe can only dream of. The average American has access to goods and technologies at incredibly cheap prices. For instance, if the rest of the world didn’t exist, an iPhone would cost about $2000. The prices for groceries at Whole Foods would be the minimum you would pay.

We are the world’s important customer with the most powerful currency to spend. And that being the case, the idea that we need to put “America First” is preposterously redundant — kind of like Louis XIV sitting on a throne eating from a bowl of cherries and stomping his foot and saying, “The problem with this world is we need to make things more about ME!”

Yes — This situation has made things hard on our own working class. We’re all well aware of the problems (and the wrong causes usually get the blame). But we are often willfully blind to the *benefits* of the situation. The global economy is not a zero sum game. America will GAIN when the rest of the world is lifted out of poverty.

It’s currently in vogue to hate trade deals like the TPP. Everyone hates the TPP — the left, the right — everyone. Except, apparently, Barack Obama.

So why does he support it?

One of the most important things that the TPP does is that it gives America jurisdiction to protect workers all around the globe. It gives workers in countries outside the US the right to organize. These are the invisible people in countries 10,000 miles a day who work 14 hour days at a fraction of our poverty wage making the things that you and I buy every single day.

There is no political benefit for Barack Obama to stand up for these people. No short term benefit, anyway. But our nation’s founding theorem is that ALL men are created equal, not just Americans. When we use our economic might to protect people in other countries — not because we have to, but because it’s right — we create economic justice, stability and progress that will benefit our world and our children in the coming decades.

In the last 20 years, over a billion people have been lifted out of extreme poverty worldwide. Hundreds of millions of Chinese people have come out of extreme rural poverty and have joined the global economy, which means better education for their children and longer life spans and a better standard of living. In the big picture, Life on Earth is getting better for billions. We’re not fighting world wars that cost tens of millions of lives.

But it is impossible to appreciate it if you are caught up in your own petty problems, in the emotional rollercoaster of your own daily life.

In order to appreciate this greater global progress, we have to turn away from our lizard brain resentments, and listen to our better angels. We have to value every life equally to our own. We must praise the good, even good that doesn’t benefit us directly. This is what great societies do. Barack Obama has shown by his actions and his leadership that he understands that.

The question is… do you?