Hope Without Change: Why the Ruling Class Will Cling Harder to Globalism in the Wake of COVID-19

Amidst the death and economic devastation, hope is running high that the Coronavirus will be the final nail in the coffin of neoliberalism and globalism. “High neoliberalism already had a preexisting health condition, and this global pandemic may be fatal for it,” Fred Bauer opines in National Review. “Post-corona, the working class will blow a gasket over Chinese trade,” Sohrab Amari predicts in The New York Post. The virus is “a glaring illustration that to preserve true freedom, we need some barriers.”

In this rosy view, the deadly Wuhan virus will conclusively vindicate the central nationalist axiom that borders matter. All will finally see the folly of thinking of the world as a global village—and of China as just a distant neighbor supplying us with cheap goods.

America’s bungled response to the previous great geopolitical crisis of the 21st century, however, should temper our hopes.

After 9/11, any sane nation would have gotten control of its borders, completely overhauled its immigration system, and applied extra scrutiny to Muslim arrivals (a wise nation would have never enacted our immigration policies in the first place). All 19 of the hijackers readily entered the country and five overstayed their visas. All 19 were Muslim. At the time, a whopping two-thirds of Americans wanted to stop all immigration.

What did America do? On immigration, essentially nothing. As a result, Muslim immigration considerably increased after 9/11 (by some accounts, it doubled). As did overall immigration, both legal and illegal. The Department of Homeland Security estimates that more than 650,000 foreigners overstayed their visas in Fiscal Year 2018. Our immigration “system,” if one can call it that, remains a joke.

America did, however, create not one but two bureaucratic behemoths: the aforementioned DHS and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. We vastly expanded the ability of the federal government to spy on U.S. citizens. And we embarked on two multi-trillion-dollar wars to build democracies in tribal countries with no democratic traditions (and, in the process, eliminated the regional counterbalance to Iran).

It wouldn’t be fair to say that we learned nothing from 9/11. Our ruling class did become conscious of just how deep “Islamophobia” runs in America. Muslims were granted coveted victim status in the progressive hierarchy of oppression. It is now only a matter of time before the federal government creates a new artificial identity group for Middle Easterners and North Africans (the Obama administration tried, but Trump nixed it).

None of the subsequent Islamist attacks, some effectively thwarted, did anything to provoke a reconsideration of our policies.

After Nidal Hassan gunned down 13 people at Fort Hood, the Army’s top officer, General George Casey, reminded Americans that “our diversity, not only in our Army but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” A decade later, President Trump’s modest and entirely reasonable travel ban on a handful of dysfunctional countries was enjoined by the courts and denounced by the elites as “Islamophobic.”

In light of this, it’s hard not to think that the current global pandemic will end up simply confirming the prejudices of our ruling class. They are likely to conclude that the uneven national responses to the virus reveal the inherent limitations of sovereign states. They will call for a better-funded World Health Organization to handle the next outbreak. Global problems call for global solutions, as they like to say.

As for holding China accountable, the New York Times is already warning “an international health and economic crisis calls for more cooperation, not confrontation, between Washington and Beijing.” Meanwhile, the conservative establishment worries about a decline in trade between the two nations.

The virus may not put a dent in globalism, but the prolonged shutdown could do lasting damage to America’s already enfeebled civil society. Thousands of small businesses, civic associations, private schools, local churches, and charitable organizations could fold. Institutions that rely on federal money will not.

Many Americans have also shown themselves to be uncharacteristically passive as state and local governments restrict civil liberties, release prisoners, and refuse to prosecute burglaries and other property crimes. It is a dispiriting thought that the legacy of the coronavirus could be a stronger state, a more sheepish and fearful population, and a ruling class even more dedicated to globalism.

About David Azerrad

David Azerrad is an assistant professor and research fellow at Hillsdale College’s Van Andel Graduate School of Government in Washington, D.C. His research and writing focuses on classical liberalism, conservative political thought and identity politics

Photo: ChakisAtelier/Getty Images

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