Q & A

Bill and Melinda Gates explain why an “America First” philosophy hurts Americans

“The America first world view concerns me.”
“The America first world view concerns me.”
Image: AP Photo/Julio Cortez
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Every year, Bill and Melinda Gates publish a letter about their philanthropic work, lessons learned, and priorities ahead. This year, their 10th, the couple used their Gates Foundation letter to answer the “toughest” questions that they get asked, ranging from why the couple doesn’t spend more money in US-focused development projects, to why they give so much of their wealth away in the first place.

The question that Bill Gates says he’s asked most frequently: How does Donald Trump affect the foundation’s work?

Both Bill and Melinda’s replies are straightforward, indeed even confrontational. Bill emphasizes recent cuts in US funding to foreign aid as a problem, and criticizes the administration’s “America First” approach as shortsighted, saying “My view is that engaging with the world has proven over time to benefit everyone, including Americans, more than withdrawing does.”

Here’s his full response:

For decades the United States has been a leader in the fight against disease and poverty abroad. These efforts save lives. They also create US jobs. And they make Americans more secure by making poor countries more stable and stopping disease outbreaks before they become pandemics. The world is not a safer place when more people are sick or hungry.

President Trump proposed severe cuts to foreign aid. To its credit, Congress has moved to put the money back in the budget. It’s better for the United States when it leads, through both hard power and soft power.

More broadly, the America First worldview concerns me. It’s not that the United States shouldn’t look out for its people. The question is how best to do that. My view is that engaging with the world has proven over time to benefit everyone, including Americans, more than withdrawing does. Even if we measured everything the government did only by how much it helped American citizens, global engagement would still be a smart investment.

Bill also didn’t try to sugarcoat his relationship with the White House:

[…] we disagree with this administration more than the others we’ve met with, we believe it’s still important to work together whenever possible. We keep talking to them because if the US cuts back on its investments abroad, people in other countries will die, and Americans will be worse off.

Melinda echoed that it’s the Gates Foundation’s job to gather as much government support as possible. She points out that the US government could invest more on education domestically, even if not abroad. And she also criticized the US president’s personal behavior, particularly towards women, saying:

I would also say that I believe one of the duties of the president of the United States is to role model American values in the world. I wish our president would treat people, and especially women, with more respect when he speaks and tweets. Equality is an important national principle. The sanctity of each individual, regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, or gender, is part of our country’s spirit. The president has a responsibility to set a good example and empower all Americans through his statements and his policies.

Melinda Gates’s philanthropic work is largely focused on women and girls.

Read the full letter here.