In 1980, when Ronald Regan took office, he referred to America as a ‘Shining City on a Hill.” The message conveyed at this year’s inauguration was “Will the last person up in that ‘shining city’ please turn the lights off when you leave?…”
It appears that nationalism is coming back very bigly. We got our very first look at the nation’s economic philosophy yesterday, with the new president setting the tone for an administration that is seemingly eager to withdraw from the rest of the world. Our politics are becoming frighteningly isolationist, as President Donald J. Trump used his inauguration speech as a platform to launch off into a tirade heavy on nationalist rhetoric. It was loud and bombastic, with a dark tone reminiscent of his campaign. He portrayed himself as the omnipotent hero riding into town on his white horse to save the day. The overarching theme was “America First”, bringing to an end nearly 70 years of global leadership.
Preaching to the Choir
The speech started out heavy on populism, claiming that today “we are transferring power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the people.” However, it quickly revealed itself to be directed specifically at his base, with no olive branches or appeals to a greater unity to be found. Referencing a global climate of upheaval, he spoke of the “forgotten people” left behind by a changing world, and assured them that change is coming. He is telling his supporters (working-class white voters) that he hears their message loud and clear, and from this point on their concerns take precedence. The folks no longer need be concerned, as ‘taking care of our own’ is now the order of the day.
He lamented how “the wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed across the entire world,” an overt dig at global trade deals, using that sentiment to set up platitudes about ‘winning’ again.
But that is the past. And now we are looking only to the future. We assembled here today are issuing a new decree to be heard in every city, in every foreign capital, and in every hall of power.
From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land.
From this moment on, it’s going to be America First.
Rather than taking the high road, it seems Mr. Trump is opting scare tactics and pandering to economic insecurity:
Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families. We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies, and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength.
All of this stuff reeks of the influence of Steve Bannon, his fiery populist-nationalist adviser, who turned Breitbart into the go-to sight of the alt-right. Many have speculated that he wrote this speech, or at least had significant input. At this point it is safe to say that Trump is not interested in uniting the country, so much as he is imposing his vision…
Hail Emperor Trump
The speech had an overtly autocratic tone, complete with bleak references to a dystopian nightmare that only he can save us from.
This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
I’m not sure how many Americans would describe their everyday lives as carnage, but his unapologetic fear-mongering is chilling to hear to those who do not share his worldview.
He is shamelessly invoking patriotism, wrapping himself up in the flag and militarism in order to set about his real agenda, whatever that may be. You can be certain that promoting the ‘Trump brand’ and having total autonomy in whatever he does will be two items high on his list. His ego knows no limits and even the most scandalous among us could not possibly imagine the kind of sinister schemes he and Bannon are cooking up. Suffice it to say he is promoting himself and not the nation.
The National Interest
The shift in the American zeitgeist is consistent with the new wave of nationalism that is taking the world by storm at the moment. From the Economist:
For the first time since the second world war, the great and rising powers are simultaneously in thrall to various sorts of chauvinism. Like Mr Trump, leaders of countries such as Russia, China and Turkey embrace a pessimistic view that foreign affairs are often a zero-sum game in which global interests compete with national ones. It is a big change that makes for a more dangerous world.
Trump is now the latest and obviously the most influential example of this disturbing trend, which cannot spell good news for international relations going forward. At a time when global leadership is desperately needed on such issues as climate change, poverty, and terrorism, the great nations of the world appear to be shying away from the challenge.
An Unoriginal Concept
None of this stuff is new or revolutionary at all, the Donald is merely just copying the playbook of those who came before him. Isolationism and protectionism are ideas with long and documented histories both in the U.S. and abroad. These concepts have been discredited for at least a century now, which is why they were done away with long ago in favor of a system that more reflected the needs of a changing world.
“America First” is a slogan that was initially used by the America First Committee, an organization formed in the 1940’s who opposed foreign intervention, and whose main goal was avoiding war with Germany. They appealed to a strong sense of national interest, putting the needs of Americans at the forefront in all issues. The group faced huge scrutiny due to the anti-Semitic language of Charles Lindbergh, its prominent member. They ultimately disbanded when we entered World War II.
God Bless America, and ONLY America
The idea the the United States takes a role of leadership globally has been a foregone conclusion for the better part of the last century. We have at least been a member of the global community, if not at its forefront. That era appears to be dead, or at least our new commander in chief is calling for it to be. No one yet knows what that means.
I am not suggesting that we need to shape the world or intervene in another nations’ affairs, but to essentially thumb our collective noses at other nations of the world at a time of such turmoil would not be a wise decision. There is no doubt that we should focus on rebuilding our country, but to suggest that it is not already great, or that we have no use for international opinions or concerns is ill-founded. This attitude represents an arrogance that most certainly does not reflect the will of the people of America. Even if it is us who are supposed to benefit from it.