×

Fill out the brief form below for access to the free report.

Americans Want Fairness, Gratitude, and Genuine Friendships

Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb, explains what he thinks Americans want from other nations, which is to be treated fairly and recognized for their international support. And he offers his ideas on how America can best respond to the flow of goods, people, and ideas across borders.

Interview with Rep. Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb) July 21, 2020 //   14 minute read

GOP Rep. Jeff Fortenberry has served Nebraska’s First Congressional District since 2005. A member of the House Appropriations Committee’s State and Foreign Operations Subcommittee, the former publishing executive is deeply involved with the issues America faces around the world. A graduate of Louisiana State University, the representative also holds graduate degrees from Georgetown University and Franciscan University.

In this interview with Lindsay Lloyd, the Bradford M. Freeman Director of the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative, Chris Walsh, senior program manager of the Bush Institute’s Human Freedom Initiative, and William McKenzie, senior editorial advisor at the Bush Institute, the one-time Lincoln, Nebraska, City Council member comments on America’s challenges after George Floyd’s murder. He explains what he thinks Americans want from other nations, which is to be treated fairly and recognized for their international support. And he offers his ideas on how America can best respond to the flow of goods, people, and ideas across borders.

Below is an excerpt from his video exchange, which has been edited for length and clarity.

How should Americans best respond to the crisis that has arisen in the aftermath of George Floyd's senseless killing? What do we want other democracies learning from our response?

It is the right question to ask, and it's a very difficult, painful question to ask. It’s a necessary one to ask as we all work through the complexities of a number of factors.

George Floyd’s cruel, senseless death was a trauma to our nation and continues to be so. Many people who have seen this in light of the need for a much broader and deeper dialogue about past injustice, moving forward with the ideals of equality, understanding how we actually exercise this extraordinary right to move into the streets, raise signs, and even raise voices are part of a gift to America.

There’s an unfortunate aspect that I hope doesn't hijack the response. Those who are intent on seeking redress through violence undermine the ability of our country to do two things at once. And that is to maintain a delicate balance between safety and compassion.

Safety creates the conditions for the orderly redress of problems. Without safety, there cannot be a full- functioning of these ideals and rights. Without compassion, though, we can't hear one another. We will talk past one another, and that undermines our ability to live with one another.

Safety creates the conditions for the orderly redress of problems. Without safety, there cannot be a full functioning of these ideals and rights. Without compassion, though, we can't hear one another. We will talk a past one another, and that undermines our ability to live with one another.

I think a lot of people around the world are worried about America. America still represents an important ideal. That’s why demands for immigration continue to be high, and others require our leadership on liberty. My pushback to them is that there needs to be some gratitude, some sharing of burdens, and an authentic relationship, rather than a transactional one.

Right now, though, is a time of great national trauma and suffering. I hope it works itself out constructively through authentic dialogue and necessary changes, so we are known as the people who uphold the ideals of safety, particularly for the most vulnerable, and compassion.

How do you see populism affecting democracies? Is it something that gives you alarm, or are people merely expressing their frustrations about a variety of things, from international institutions to global trade to the flow of money, capital, and people across borders? Or is it something in between?

I will start with a story. A small group of us recently had a conversation with the King of Jordan, an ally of the United States and an important player in the Middle East. He enjoys a very good relationship with many members of Congress, and we provide the Jordanians significant foreign aid.

He started out thanking America, thanking us, for all the support we have given them. Most Americans don’t have the luxury, time, or disposition to think about how our relationship with Jordan affects Israel, Iraq, and other issues. They have more immediate family, economic, and work issues. But I think most Americans want to know that their support is appreciated since we don’t sit around and watch other people suffer and die. That’s a deep value proposition of ours. We have played a significant leadership role, particularly since World War II, in creating the conditions for security in the world.

Another factor in what you are asking is that we have a new economic model that has become larger and larger. I am not labeling some big businesses as bad. Some of them are necessary for economies of scale. But when they dwarf the ability of small businesses to get ahead, and when they offshore their manufacturing to places far away to take advantage of lax labor and environmental laws, they effectively prop up another form of nationalism in another place. And then we're expected to send ships through the South China Sea to keep the shipping lanes open for their quarterly-profit bottom line.

That is part of the deeper reaction people are having when they ask whether they are being treated fairly. We’ve lost jobs, we’re watching a very large country bully other countries and degrade their own people in their own environment. And we're supposed to just shrug the shoulder and say, "Well, trade's important."

No one is running around looking to be a populist. What they're looking for is fairness and a little bit of gratitude for the extraordinary sacrifice that America makes on behalf of the entire world. Ironically, the world longs for our leadership, but we long for a bit of gratitude and burden sharing so we have a solid partnership again.

We need to move toward what I call “trusted trade partners.” If you are not meeting the systematic needs of your people, how can we trust you with trade?

Large multinational corporations ought to be on notice, too. The most egregious example of which is drug manufacturing, which is heavily dependent upon China and other places for drug ingredients. There is a double standard. We can't guarantee the safety and efficacy of those drugs coming from a place like China because their system won't allow us to do that. So we make exceptions for those companies? No way. That's an indirect subsidy of a multinational corporation to move their business out of America to another place. We’re done with that.

The dynamic of an economic exchange should lead to the very purpose of international economics, which is the wellbeing of both countries and the strengthening of the relationship. Instead, the exchange with China is pulling us apart and creating more tensions. All of this has to be rethought.

Again, nobody going down the street outside my office is thinking in terms of joining a movement for reactionary populism. They are just saying, "Why aren't we being treated fairly? I can't get ahead in life. I'm seeing brutal repression of others, and I'm supposed to just buy a made in China label. What? I don't get that. Take care of me so I can help take care of others."

Again, nobody going down the street outside my office is thinking in terms of joining a movement for reactionary populism. They are just saying, 'Why aren't we being treated fairly? I can't get ahead in life. I'm seeing brutal repression of others, and I'm supposed to just buy a made in China label. What? I don't get that. Take care of me so I can help take care of others.'

When you think about the impact of the flow of people across borders, what do you see as their effect on the stability of democracy in our own hemisphere as well as around the world?

To give you an example, a few years ago I went to Northern Iraq. When ISIS attacked the religious minority communities in that region, there was a recognition that this was genocide.

Some of us pushed very hard to get a genocide resolution through the United States Congress. I also worked directly with then-Secretary of State John Kerry, and eventually the State Department put America’s imprimatur on this resolution.

This was an important moment that spoke to what you are talking about. A group of people who had lived quietly in minority status in a country were targeted for extermination by this twisted ideology. They cried out for help and no one listened. They had to flee.

We're in the process now of continuing to try to help those religious minority communities hang on. They form this ancient pluralistic mosaic, this tapestry of differing perspectives that has a long history in Iraq. They have a right to be there as much as anyone else.

The future health of Iraqi nationalism depends upon a respect for a difference of perspectives so that it doesn't just default back to tribal and ethnic allegiance. We're making some progress in that regard, but it depends also upon security.

Let me give you another example. When I visited Iraq, we went to a refugee camp that housed refugees of the Yazidi faith. When I left Iraq, I said that our economic aid has possibilities, but without security those in the Yazidi tradition will leave.

Many had been our military translators and had risked their lives. Some even lost their lives. So we gave special immigrant visas to Yazidis. Interestingly, the largest number of them ended up in Lincoln, Nebraska.

I point this out because we have special considerations for people who face religious persecution or other types of danger. But a just and compassionate immigration system also depends upon orderliness, particularly at our border.

I have been a part of initiatives in Congress to look at how we move funds to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. We need to make sure we are spending money in a way that creates conditions in which people are protected, there is rule of law, and sufficient economic opportunity exists for people to stay.

I have been a part of initiatives in Congress to look at how we move funds to the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. We need to make sure we are spending money in a way that creates conditions in which people are protected, there is rule of law, and sufficient economic opportunity exists for people to stay.

Yes, some people who leave have criminal intent. But others are fleeing simply to figure out some better economic pathway or because they can no longer deal with the corruption.

We need an immigration system that is based upon an absorption capacity, which means having the ability to assimilate immigrants and uphold the values of our country in an orderly process. Without that, you hollow out the ability of the system to be generous. With an orderly system, you can create a compassionate and just system. Of course, charity has to be done intelligently, so we don’t undermine the ability of the country to develop the right conditions.

In terms of our hemisphere, we've got a huge opportunity. Even though Central America is going through huge traumas with corruption, the movement of drugs, the necessity of land reform, and the persecution of indigenous peoples, this century may help us think holistically about this hemisphere. I recently asked an ambassador from a Northern Triangle country “Who are you?” He said, “What do you mean?” I said, “What do people think of when they think of your country?” He said “Violence.”

He was exactly right but went onto to give this beautiful response about how his people love their families and cultural traditions, work extraordinarily hard, and have this deep sense of appropriate national pride." I said, "Beautiful. Clean up the crime, clean up the violence, rebrand yourself. People will go there. You will flourish."

That could be the 21st century architecture for our relationship with Central and South America. That's what I want to work toward.

Up Next:

No Nation is an Island on July 21, 2020