Robert W. Merry
The National Interest
The pundits and commentators and pols and prognosticators will all identify multifarious political fault lines to explain the looming epic American battle between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – women vs. Trump; evangelicals vs. Hillary; Hispanics vs. white, working-class Americans with no college; the LBGT community vs. traditionalists; old vs. young. It’s all important, but not very. Any true understanding of this election requires an appreciation of the one huge political fault line that is driving America into a period of serious political tremors, certain to jolt the political Richter scale. It is nationalists vs. globalists.
Globalists captured much of American society long ago by capturing the bulk of the nation’s elite institutions—the media, academia, big corporations, big finance, Hollywood, think tanks, NGOs, charitable foundations. So powerful are these institutions—in themselves and, even more so, collectively—that the elites running them thought that their political victories were complete and final. That’s why we have witnessed in recent years a quantum expansion of social and political arrogance on the part of these high-flyers.
Then along comes Donald Trump and upends the whole thing. Just about every major issue that this super-rich political neophyte has thrown at the elites turns out to be anti-globalist and pro-nationalist. And that is the single most significant factor in his unprecedented and totally unanticipated rise. Consider some examples:
Immigration: Nationalists believe that any true nation must have clearly delineated and protected borders, otherwise it isn’t really a nation. They also believe that their nation’s cultural heritage is sacred and needs to be protected, whereas mass immigration from far-flung lands could undermine the national commitment to that heritage. Globalists don’t care about borders. They believe the nation-state is obsolete, a relic of the 1648 Peace of Westphalia, which codified the recognition of co-existing nation states. Globalists reject Westphalia in favor of an integrated world with information, money, goods and people traversing the globe at accelerating speeds without much regard to traditional concepts of nationhood or borders.
Foreign Policy: Globalists are motivated by humanitarian impulses. For them, the rights and well-being of the world’s people supersede the rights and well-being of the American populace. Indeed, as writer Robert D. Kaplan has observed, the liberal embrace of universal principles as foreign-policy guidance “leads to a pacifist strain…when it comes to defending our hard-core national interest, and an aggressive strain when it comes to defending human rights.” Globalists, in advocating foreign policy adventurism, are quick to conflate events in the Baltics, say, or Georgia or Ukraine with U.S. national interest, but it’s really about the globalist impulse of dominating world events. Nationalists don’t care about dominating world events. Being nationalists, they want their country to be powerful, with plenty of military reach, but mostly to protect American national interests. They usually ask a fundamental question when foreign adventures are proposed—whether the national interest justifies the expenditure of American blood and treasure on behalf of this or that military initiative. The fate of other people struggling around the globe, however heartrending, doesn’t usually figure large in nationalist considerations. The fate of America is the key.
Trade: The history of trade in America admits of no straight-line analysis. Andrew Jackson was a supreme nationalist, and a free-trader. William McKinley made America a global power, but was a protectionist. In our own time, though, the fault line is clear. Globalists salute the free flow of goods across national borders on the theory that this will foster ever greater global commerce, to the benefit of all peoples of all nations. Writer and commentator Thomas L. Friedman, a leading globalist of his generation, once extolled America as the world’s role model for “globally integrated free-market capitalism.” That was before the Great Recession and the subsequent anemic recovery throughout most of the Obama years. Today’s American nationalists look at the results of the kind of “globalization” extolled by Friedman and conclude that it has hollowed out America’s industrial core. Whether they are right or not, their focus is on the American citizens whose lives and livelihoods have been also hollowed out in many instances. Thus has a powerful new wave of protectionism washed over the body politic, leaving globalist elites running to get out of the way. Globalists were too focused on global trade and commerce to notice the horrendous plight of America’s internal refugees from the industrial nation of old.