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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Why America Doesn't Need to Win

Donald Trump

Donald Trump

Putting Common Interests Above Self-Interests

Ann Skeet

“America doesn’t win anymore.”

So says Donald Trump. His premise strikes me as, well, unethical. It suggests that the purpose of America is a unified clobbering of other nations and the people in them. I have always understood that America was created so that all people could pursue their own happiness, whatever it might be, and have lives of value. And I like to think of an ethical world as one where significant decisions are made with care and concern for others, a vision articulated eloquently by a colleague of mine.

America is not a zero sum country. It was not designed so that, in order for some people to experience their happiness, others must sacrifice theirs. Yet I hear people in positions of influence fall into this trap when they say things like “America doesn’t win anymore.” President Obama did it in a speech when he declared that Americans would be the most educated people in the world. In order for us to have knowledge, other people must have less knowledge? I believe it's possible for all people to have more knowledge. The pie can get bigger and as it grows, each of us gets a larger slice.

The country doesn’t need to win. The people in it do. And there is a difference between those two things. America has not been successful in seeding democracy when it is forced. But it has seen democracy take hold in places around the world when it has offered it. By sharing democracy, if you will, not needing to have the most democracy. Not needing to win.

No one is winning right now, not any country or person that cannot help reverse the damage we are doing to our planet and one another. To do that, people must be willing to put common interests ahead of self-interest. They actually must be willing to lose.

People who find themselves in moments where they can influence others—which is not necessarily the same thing as offering leadership—can sow hope or foment divides. Not enough hope is being offered to too many people in the world and we see it in health and energy crises, acts of terrorism, children not just in poverty but destitution.

My hope for Americans is that, when a new president and congress and yes, eventually a new Supreme Court justice, are in office that we all feel as if our slice has gotten larger and that we are satisfied with that, without needing someone else’s slice—here in America or beyond—to shrink.

That’s my pursuit of happiness. That’s what I hope a leader can help us all achieve.

Ann Skeet is the Director of Leadership Ethics at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

(AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)



Mar 16, 2016

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