Will Trump cancel H1B visas

"America First": from exceptionalism to tech-receptionalism

When it comes to new technologies - and especially artificial intelligence - Donald Trump's administration uses aggressive rhetoric in its speeches, regulations and official documents. All of this is part of the so-called American AI initiative, which makes the sole goal of US technology policy more than clear: America First. Although this approach is US-centric, its consequences will be felt globally.

Like other new technologies, AI technologies are exported worldwide and rely on global supply chains. So what a country like the US does in its home market will make waves around the world. The fact that technology policy is so deeply anchored in the tradition of American exceptionalism is also likely to have a negative effect on technology itself. America may even isolate itself from its neighbors, lose allies, and disrupt key global supply chains if it tries to pressure other countries to compete for leadership and interests.

The maxim of "America First" is not an invention of the Trump administration; rather, American exceptionalism is a well-known concept. Its origins have roots in many different political and philosophical movements in US history. But although the term has a long tradition in foreign and international politics, American exceptionalism is increasingly shaping technological policy decisions.

America's special way as a moral duty

The Sonderweg expresses the belief that America is in a unique position and therefore even has a moral duty to take on a global leadership role in the field of technology. In order to fulfill this self-proclaimed role as a technological world power and leading AI nation, the USA must continue to shape future technologies and the globally applicable norms to which it is bound. America's leadership role is important in many international forums, but it follows a strategy of international cooperation that is closely intertwined with US interests. Such a strategy is not only used by the US, but they are doing it in an extreme form. And because American technologies and corporations have such a strong global presence, American behavior can have a disproportionate impact on global affairs.

Political debates and negotiations on technologies like 5G, quantum computing and artificial intelligence are all the rage right now. Since Trump took office, he has reformulated and tightened up many government documents that relate to technology. The current government is pursuing a clear strategy: to protect American technologies and technological innovations and to enforce American interests around the world by always taking a pioneering role.

Unprecedented steps in the “technology war” with China

In order to secure this technological pioneering role, Trump has issued regulations that affect monitoring mechanisms for direct investment from abroad. In addition, the powers of the government agency responsible for foreign direct investment in the United States have been expanded. This move is intended to protect the “crown jewels” of American technology - this includes technology companies, patents and expert knowledge. The Trump administration has also reformed and tightened export control legislation. The new legislation aims to protect sensitive, confidential technologies from being bought up by foreign actors.

In addition, Trump has taken unprecedented steps in his self-proclaimed “technology war” against China: He threatens to limit the number of H1-B visas for qualified professionals from China and to cancel the visas of thousands of Chinese university students in the USA . Trump fears that these students have ties to military universities in China. The government is trying to keep the US out of foreign academics and skilled workers who can drive technological advances. These measures could damage America's ability to innovate, because under these conditions the US innovation ecosystem no longer has access to foreign capital and the brightest minds in the world.

What makes the American approach even more extraordinary: The measures are not only intended to protect American technologies, but also to advance America's interests and values ​​through leadership. The rhetoric of US leaders relies wholeheartedly on American hegemony when it comes to advanced technology.

One of the most influential men in American technology policy, Michael Kratsios, is very blatant about his policy goals. Kratsios is both Chief Technology Officer of the US government - in this role he advises Trump directly on technology issues - and acting Under-Secretary of State for Research and Technology in the US Department of Defense. In full-bodied speeches and newspaper columns, Kratsios describes China as an opponent who not only conducts its conflict with military means, but also relies on cutting-edge technology. In response, he argues, the top priority is that America use its technological know-how and expertise to maintain the upper hand in an "increasingly complex security environment."

Aggressive rhetoric that destroys international partnerships

Even if it may be true that the security environment is changing, his rhetoric speaks of “America's technological dominance” and presents the US as “the only, undisputed global superpower”. He also calls on America's allies to stand together and promote technology the way the US does: without government regulation.

This choice of words is strongly reminiscent of American exceptionalism. The logic is this: America is a beacon of hope and has a moral obligation to take on a global leadership role in artificial intelligence technologies so that the adversary China does not win this war for values. This type of rhetoric may secure political and financial support back home in the US, but it can destroy international loyalty and partnerships that are essential for the advancement and application of AI technologies according to global principles, standards and norms.

Actions are more important than words. America is not only resorting to extreme rhetoric, it is also increasing its international commitment. In official documents, the US is pursuing an aggressive, targeted approach: this is part of the American AI initiative, part of the strategies for international research collaboration, and US policy in international organizations to develop standards and norms. American public-private partnerships are designed to be leaders in research and development and take on leading roles in organizations that develop international standards (SDOs). So these standards and norms should be compatible with American interests and not hinder American industry or endanger the technological progress of the USA. As the American presence in the SDOs grows, the other member states will recognize this uncompromising strategy of dominance. That could further isolate the US from potential allies.

Even on issues of international cooperation, Trump's actions and the rhetoric of his key advisors paint a clear picture of the strategy that presidents have followed for decades: "America First". While America's exceptionalism is not a new concept, Trump takes a particularly aggressive approach to achieving his goals through technology policies and new technologies. And because high technologies are playing an ever greater role in geopolitics, this policy of “tech-ceptionalism” can no longer be criticized as an economic strategy. This approach shapes all of American foreign policy. And the legacy of these actions by the Trump administration will not be easily reversible. The strong will with which the current administration is pursuing its “America First” agenda can seriously damage the American technology sector. American tech companies could be cut off from global supply chains - both for resources and for talented minds. More importantly, this strategy can lead America into an island existence that leaves little room for international cooperation and partnerships.


Kate Saslow is project manager for the subject area "Artificial Intelligence and Foreign Policy" at the New Responsibility Foundation (SNV). The SNV is a non-profit think tank for current political and social issues relating to new technologies. Its publications, events and advisory services are not only aimed at governments and parliaments, but also at anyone who wants to get information and participate. Its experts work independently of interest groups and political parties. This article is a guest post.