Soft Power is Eroding in America

Cindy Casey
6 min readJul 20, 2020


Pandemic Diary Entry #52

Photo by Oladimeji Ajegbile from Pexels

July 20, 2020

Immigrants are what makes this country great, but for some reason we tend to forget that. This administration is attempting to completely erase it from our memory.

On July 6th, ICE issued a new rule that would toss foreign college students out of the country if they do not attend in-room classes.

The rule applied to holders of F-1 and M-1 visas, which allow nonimmigrant students to pursue academic and vocational coursework, in the US.

I began this missive on July 7th, on July 15th the administration reversed its stance on foreign students, but most likely, only temporarily.

More than 1 million of this country’s higher education students come from overseas, according to the nonprofit Institute of International Education. That is about 5% of our university population.

The cancellation of these visas was a direct coercive attempt to get schools to open up, ready or not. On Tuesday July 14th, a court case brought by Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) against the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was abandoned at the last moment when the presiding judge announced that ICE would reverse its decision. Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey has said that the case may not be the last on this issue. “They may try this again. We will be ready,”

Foreign students give so much more to this country than their dollars and I wanted to explore just that.

We have had cultural exchanges in various forms since the end of WWII. In 1945, Senator J. William Fulbright introduced a bill in Congress that called for the use of surplus war property to fund the ‘promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture, and science.’

On August 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the bill and Congress created the Fulbright Program, the first international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. Government.

According to the US State Department 450,000 jobs in the US are supported through hosting international students on US campuses. This brings in $42 billion to the US economy.

Sending foreign students home would have been an obvious financial mistake at anytime, but it would be especially difficult now. According to the Chronicle of Higher Education over 200 colleges and universities announced layoffs, furloughs or contract non-renewals. This effects over 52,000 employees of these institutions. Our country is in the throws of an unemployment and economic crisis not seen since the Great Depression, and yet it seems that ICE wanted to throw away a financial boon to communities — over politics.

Since its inception over 1 million people have gone through the Educational and Cultural Affairs exchange programs. 84 are Nobel Laureates, 583 are current or former heads of state and leaders in government.

As you can see it isn’t just increased tuition payments that foreign students bring, but brain power. International projects account for at least 20% of national government spending on scientific research. According to Nature, highly open countries that produce high-impact research seem to benefit from participating in international collaboration. In other words, putting the best and the brightest in one location, benefits everyone. It is in our best interest to open our arms to international students.

I have heard the complaint that these students, come here and take all their knowledge home. This is not true, the latest data show, for example, that 83 percent of Ph.D. students from China, the kind of highly trained scientists and engineers driving innovation in their fields, were still in the United States five years after completing their degrees. The numbers are falling, not because students are returning to their home countries, but because our government has begun requiring students to return home once they finish their education.

International students also increase the US’s sphere of soft power, something we have been slowly loosing, sending international students home will help erode this power completely.

Harvard Kennedy School’s Joseph S. Nye, coined the term “soft power” in 1990. Soft power is how to reach desired outcomes without force or economic coercion the concept helps countries save on the resources they expend in pursuit of their objectives abroad. Nye points out that cuts to exchange programs or humanitarian aid that bring the United States some savings now will carry greater costs down the road.

Since Trump took office, the United States dropped from from number one in the world in soft power to fourth in 2018, according to Fortune.

“There has been a dramatic decline in American political and soft power under Trump,” said Andrew Gilmour, a British national who served as U.N. assistant secretary-general for human rights.

This is important from a security and peace perspective as well. According to a report titled Open Doors sponsored by the State Department, Iran ranks 11th on the list of countries that send students to the United States. Iraq and Syria participate in a student leaders program supported by the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative. The program brings students to the U.S. to “expand their understanding of civil society, as well as the democratic process and how both may be applied in their home communities.”

Universities are a strong bulwark of America’s soft power: 27 of the world’s top 100 universities are in the United States, more than any other country in the world.

There will always be countries happy to step up to the plate as we fade into the background. Canada is making it easier for foreign students to enroll in their universities, seeing an increase of 11% from 2019.

“This country derives many intangible advantages from being a beacon of hope for people around the world; I first came to America in 1974 from Venezuela, where my parents finally settled as refugees from Hitler’s Europe. I came to improve my own prospects through a graduate degree. But I found a culture of openness, boldness, ingenuity and meritocracy — a culture which taught me that in coming to America, I had truly come home. Our competitors openly envy our capacity to welcome and adopt talent from everywhere. I fear lately that we will recognize this strategic U.S. strength only once it is lost.” — Dr. Rafael Reif, President of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The opening of schools in America right now is fraught with problems, controversy and pain, using international students as a pawn in the game, is not the actions of an America I believe in.

“Educational exchange can turn nations into people, contributing as no other form of communication can to the humanizing of international relations.” — Senator Fullbright

If you liked this please clap and let me know. Thank you

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San Francisco weather: 61 degrees and cloudy

NYSE DOW opened at: 26660

NYSE DOW one year ago: 27174

Foreign word of the day: Thirsty

Spanish: Sediento
Italian: Assetato

OED word of the day: don’t-carishness — The quality of not caring; carelessness, indifference, unconcern

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 130

Reading: Same Sex Love 1700–1957 by Gill Rossini / Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace / Hagard Hawks and Paltry Poltroons by Paul Anthony Jones

Studying: History and Context of Russian Literature

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Something Silly from the Internet:



Cindy Casey

My travel blog and my blog are quiet due to the Pandemic. I need to write, so here I go.