Tag Archives: Donald Trump

Considering the post I wrote the other day on nationalism, I was interested to see this post on Zero Hedge, “Nationalism and Its Discontents: A Deep Rumination on the Meaning of Trump.”

It starts with Fukuyama’s essay, “The End of History?” In this case, I read the book of the same title. Much like “The Clash of Civilizations,” Fukuyama’s argument is often reduced to its title. Raimondo summarizes the idea as the world approaching a “universal homogenous state” which would end with “U.S. hegemony over the entire earth.” This isn’t quite what Fukuyama said, but Raimondo doesn’t seem to have been the only one to have heard this. I have not reread the book in the two decades since it came out in paperback, but as I recall it was about the triumph of the liberalism as an idea, not about the domination of other countries by the West, let alone the United States of America. However, some people, especially political thinkers in the U.S.A., were very happy see in the end of the Cold War, not a triumph of liberal ideas, but a victory for the U.S.A.

Raimondo’s first paragraph is disappointingly inaccurate. I was going to write something else, but I find I’m being held up by this fact. He follows his several sentences on Fukuyama with

In a symposium commenting on Fukuyama’s thesis, the ever-practical Charles Krauthammer nevertheless insisted that it would be necessary for the United States to hurry History along by force of arms. In a subsequent polemic in Foreign Affairs, he argued that we ought to take advantage of “the unipolar moment” to “integrate” the US, Japan, and Europe into a “super-sovereign” global empire united by a “new universalism” – which, he averred, “is not as outrageous as it sounds.”

I followed the link to the Foreign Affairs article and could not find in it “new universalism,” “is not as outrageous as it sounds” or “super-sovereign.” I am not found of Krauthammer and disagree with the aggressive foreign policy that he advocates in the article, “The Unipolar Moment,” however Raimondo’s inaccuracy is annoying. I thought I would just summarize Raimondo’s post because I liked it, recommend people read it and go to bed. Perhaps Raimondo is working from memory. I’m not going to be able to double check all or Raimondo’s statements, so I’ll go back to my original plan of summarizing, although the errors do weaken the point. They’re all the more annoying because I think the basic point is a good one. I thought it was good until I read the Krauthammer article and saw that the words Raimondo quotes are not there.

So, Raimondo recounts an argument which occurred in conservative circles at the end of the Cold War, one that pitted internationalists advocating an aggressive foreign policy against isolationists. The people who we would come to call the “neo-cons” wanted to take advantage of what Krauthammer called “the unipolar moment” and actively assert the United States’ dominance.

Blinded by hubris, enthralled by the possibilities of unlimited power, the neocons – and their liberal internationalist doppelgangers on the other side of the political spectrum – didn’t see the nationalist backlash coming.

In Raimondo’s retelling, the isolationist impulse is exemplified by Patrick Buchanan.

Buchanan’s answer to Krauthammer’s globalism was a foreign policy of “enlightened nationalism”: “total withdrawal of US troops from Europe,” and a rejection of the idea – nowhere authorized in the Constitution – that the President and/or Congress has the power to sacrifice its sons on the altar of some crazed crusade for “global democracy.”

According to Raimondo, in the wake of the 9/11 attacks the neo-cons were able to redirect that nationalistic sentiment and use it “to mobilize the American people behind a crusade to transform the Middle East.” Then, after years of war, the citizens of the United States had a desire to return to “normalcy” and “elected a President who vowed to end the wars.”

…that promise, however was not kept, and Barack Obama will leave office with the US once again in the middle of at least three wars, and with a hand in several others on their periphery. Yet the nationalist impulse – which is, in part, an “isolationist” impulse – is stronger than ever, laying just beneath the surface of the American political landscape, waiting for someone to pick up its banner.

That someone turned out to be Donald Trump.

Trump’s nationalism has elements that are “useful, instructive, and even admirable.” Regarding the demagogic elements that many conservatives who dislike Trump see in him, Raimondo says:

Yet demagoguery didn’t bother them when it was deployed by George W. Bush as he marched us off to a disastrous war – a war Trump opposed, and continues to denounce today – and implied that his critics were in league with America’s enemies. … Demagoguery in the service of mass murder is fine with them: it’s only when their own methods are turned against them that the War Party starts to get religion.

The hypocrisy of the conservative stance against Trump can also be seen in the reaction to Trump’s immigration stance. Raimondo calls the National Review “a veritable fount of anti-Muslim propaganda.”

No, the real motive behind the neoconservative holy war against Trump is rooted in his foreign policy positions, which the neocons rightly view as a direct threat to their internationalist project.

Raimondo then turns his focus away from the conservatives, emphasizing that in Washington D.C. there is an “internationalist-interventionist consensus.” His target is a piece written by Thomas Wright, “director of the Project on International Order and Strategy at The Brookings Institution,” which Raimondo says if funded by Qatar. (He has a link I haven’t followed.)

Examining Trump’s foreign policy pronouncements over the years – the GOP frontrunner wonders why we are stationing 28,000 troops in South Korea, complains that we’re defending Japan while they slap tariffs on our products, and says we have no business stationing tens of thousands of soldiers in Europe, which can damn well take care of itself – Wright trots out the hate figures interventionists love to excoriate. Trump is like Robert A. Taft, who didn’t want us to join NATO: he’s like Charles Lindbergh, a leader of the anti-interventionist America First Committee, a particular hate-figure of the interventionist-neocon foreign policy Establishment. And, of course, Trump is an “isolationist,” because he’s sick of coddling our shiftless “allies” while they rip us off and laugh at us behind our back, all the while huddling under the protective wingspan of the American eagle.

All of this is no doubt reassuring to Wright’s Qatari paymasters, who have a lot to lose if Trump should win the White House and present them with a bill for services rendered. But in reading Wright’s list of Trumpist foreign policy heresies, one can’t help but think that the average American would agree with each and every one of The Donald’s complaints about the profligate paternalism involved in maintaining this precious “international order” Wright would have us enforce for free.

The following paragraph is interesting and I’d like to highlight it:

“To understand Trump, in the end, we have to go back to Taft and Lindbergh,” avers Wright, and in this he is absolutely correct. It’s a pity some of my libertarian friends fail to see this, but they are blinded by cultural factors and held captive by political correctness: immigration matters more to them than foreign policy. What they don’t understand is that the question of war and peace is the central issue of modern times. They fail to appreciate the foreign policy paradigm shift represented by Trump’s political success. However, Wright does understand it, along with his neoconservative comrades over at National Review and the Weekly Standard.

Robert A. Taft was a conservative Republican politician who opposed U.S. entry into the Second World War.

Raimondo concludes:

The lesson to be taken from this episode is the centrality of foreign policy in the political life of our country. The doggedness with which the internationalists are attacking Trump, the nature of their criticisms, and the viciousness of their tactics is an indication of how hard it will be to dislodge them – just as Trump’s popularity shows how eager Americans are to hear someone tell them that we don’t have to continue being the policeman of the world….

The meaning of Trumpism is that Americans want to rid themselves of the burden of empire…. Trump’s rise augurs a seismic shift in the foreign policy debate in this country, marking the end of the interventionist consensus that dominates both parties. And it certainly means the final defeat and humiliation of the neoconservatives…. And that alone is worth whatever price we have to pay for the triumph of Trump. For the neocons are the very core of the War Party: their demise as a politically effective force inside the GOP is an event that every person who wants a more peaceful world has been longing for and should celebrate.

When the Republican-controlled Congress in the Clinton era threatened to pull the funding from Bill Clinton’s war in the former Yugoslavia, Bill Kristol threatened to walk out of the GOP. Today, as Trump appears to be the likely Republican presidential nominee, Kristol is threatening to start his own party.

This is all very interesting.

Although I’ve been critical of anti-war people for their tendency to downplay the consequences of their decisions. At the same time, I am not in favor of an aggressive foreign policy, either. In Krauthammer’s Foreign Affairs article there is a mention of another point of view which is neither isolationist nor interventionist which Krauthammer calls realism.

Isolationism is the most extreme expression of the American desire to return to tend its vineyards. But that desire finds expression in another far more sophisticated and serious foreign policy school: not isolationism but realism, the school that insists that American foreign policy be guided solely by interests and that generally defines these interests in a narrow and national manner.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in a cafe in Paris when I happened to strike up a conversation with an Australian woman sitting next to me. At some point, she brought up Sarah Palin and went on for quite a bit about how ridiculous she was, a position with which I agreed. After continuing a little bit longer, she finally said, “What ever happened to her?” I said, “She wasn’t elected. She had no real support, so she disappeared.”

This time around, the media is having fun with reality tv star Donald Trump. As far as I can tell, Donald Trump is supported by Republicans who are angry with the status quo of the party and want to send a message. I have no reason to believe that he has even a small chance of winning the general election. However, he satisfies the need everyone has to gloat and go on about how stupid the unwashed masses are, the unwashed masses being, as best as I’ve been able to discern, everyone but the speaker. It’s a ritualized routine everyone is comfortable with.

Another routine which people left of center have enjoyed throughout my entire life is the one where they say how stupid Americans are for being afraid of socialism. We, so the Kabuki theatre of the left goes, barely understand what the word means and we are automatically scared to death when we hear it. This is then followed by a self-congratulatory pose for being so much more well-informed than the strawman.

These routines are so well ingrained in our political discourse, if discourse is the right word, sometimes we continue to say them long after there is much substance behind them. Will the conventional wisdom that U.S. citizens automatically run when they hear the word “socialism” change now that Bernie Sanders is drawing huge crowds, 28,000 people in Portland, Oregon, and 27,500 in Los Angeles?

The idea that citizens in the U.S. tend to be jumpy about the word socialism is not simply a myth. While we may support specific social programs, we tend to back away from a full-blown Socialist ideology. According to Wikipedia:

Initially, “socialism” referred to general concern for the social problems of capitalism regardless of the solutions to those problems. However, by the late 19th century, after waves of revolutionary movements, “socialism” had come to signify opposition to capitalism and advocacy for a post-capitalist system based on some form of social ownership.

In the United States, you can often find support for the former and very little support for the latter. Conservatives have made much use of the blurred definition by referring to specific social programs they oppose as “socialism.”

In the Wall Street Journal, Jason L. Riley points out that “no one is saying Bernie Sanders can’t win because America isn’t ready to elect an avowed socialist as president, which might have been the case not too long ago.”

This is a dramatic change in attitudes. I can’t help speculating that this change has been brought about by the rhetoric of the far right. For six and a half years now, the right has screamed relentlessly that President Obama is a Socialist. This generally has left people to the left of center laughing and shaking their heads. Compared even to me, a moderate liberal, Obama might as well be a moderate conservative. The far right has screamed “The President is a Socialist,” and the general population must have noticed that the sky has not fallen. Ironically, by calling every move to address any social problem “socialism”, without any nuance or explanation, the right may have taken the sting out of the word. Also, they may have confused the distinction.

Riley continues:

If the Democratic Party once felt the need to distinguish itself from socialism, that no longer seems to be the case. When Mr. Sanders entered Congress in 1991, “Democrats initially balked at accepting a Socialist in their caucus,” according to the “Almanac of American Politics.”

He goes on to say, “in this age of Obama, the senator is just another liberal with a statist agenda.” This is routine rhetoric that we’ve come to expect over the past few years. Sanders calls himself a socialist, Sanders often votes with the Democrats, Obama is a Democrat, therefore Obama is a Socialist. Riley may mean this to reflect badly on Obama, but the ultimate effect is to make Socialism less scary and normalize it for the U.S. public.

As an intellectual, I’m not really thrilled with this confusion. I believe that ideas matter, although it may not always be evident in the heat of a political fight when people will say anything to win. Blurring the lines between Liberalism and Socialism, between Leftist Radicalism and Liberalism, makes it difficult to discuss what we believe. Still, I’m not afraid of Socialists and if the slogans of the right have made a self-described socialist electable, I must say I find that very funny.

Oh – the only poll I could find that pitted Sanders against Trump has Sanders winning.