The patriotic, “America First” fervor embraced by President Trump and his supporters has been relentlessly attacked by his political opponents and their media allies as a menace. Critics of America First populism allege that it is racist and xenophobic, and they point to historical examples of toxic nationalism as evidence. They frequently accuse Trump’s followers of being “white nationalists,” comparing them to the German Nazis who overran Europe in the 1940s and slaughtered millions.
These historical comparisons are useful, but can be more accurately interpreted as refuting Trump’s critics. Instead of comparing American nationalism in the era of Trump to toxic nationalist movements in history, it should be compared to the globalist alternative which asserted itself with a vengeance in this recent presidential election. The American elite who oppose Trump’s America First movement are globalists, protecting their gains and promoting the further expansion of what has become the American empire. Joe Biden is their latest figurehead.
Considered in this context, Trump’s “nationalism” has little in common with the nationalist movements to which it is frequently compared. The German Nazis did not emerge as a populist movement because Germany had conquered the world. They emerged because in 1918 the German empire was defeated, with its colonial possessions confiscated, its disputed borderlands seized, and its remaining territory split in two. The Nazis emerged because in this dismembered nation, the victorious foreign powers made impossible claims on Germany’s wealth, driving millions of its citizens into breadlines.
How do any of these details regarding Germany in the decades leading up to World War II compare to America today? They don’t.
A more apt comparison would have to consider a scenario wherein Germany prevailed in the Great War, carved up Europe, confiscated the colonial possessions of France and Great Britain, and ruled the world in the 1920s and through the decades thereafter. In that alternative version of history, as Germany fought endless wars to maintain its global empire, along came a populist leader who recognized how the benefits of empire accrued only to an aristocratic elite.
America today is an economic, military, and cultural empire dominating the world. Its close allies include members of NATO and the British Commonwealth. Its economic reach is best expressed in the status of the U.S. dollar as the reserve and transaction currency in the world. The English language is the global lingua franca. American culture, its movies, music, fads, fashions, consumer gadgets, and social media platforms are adopted and emulated everywhere. Opposing the American empire is the Russian Federation, reduced in the aftermath of the Cold War, and rising China, a nation determined to replace America as the global hegemon.
This reality puts America’s internal political debate into its proper context. What is the price of maintaining the American empire? Who benefits and who loses? When President Trump, often indelicately, called for other nations to share the burden of their military alliance with the United States, and called for other nations to engage in trade reciprocity with the United States, it had nothing to do with xenophobia, or toxic nationalism. It was his recognition that thousands of ordinary Americans were dying in brushfire wars around the globe at the same time as millions of their jobs were migrating offshore.
The universal hatred for President Trump as expressed by opposition from every establishment institution in America, backed by multinational corporations, ought to concern every American. Trump’s bellicosity provided cover for his opponents, allowing them to point to his behavior as the problem, when in fact the threat he posed to their interests ran far deeper. Examples from recent history illustrate why America’s empire builders had to get rid of Trump no matter what.
Recall the days leading up to the second Iraq war in 2003. Saddam Hussein’s regime was bottled up. No fly zones protected the Kurds in the north and the Shiite communities in the south. To the extent Sunni-controlled central Iraq still had an army, it was an effective counterweight to Iran. Hussein had not nurtured the 9/11 terrorists, that culpability fell to the Taliban in Afghanistan, and even to the Saudis.
Nonetheless, there was President George W. Bush on national television, formally declaring that Saddam Hussein had 48 hours to leave Iraq, or the Americans would invade. Watching Bush deliver that speech, his diction and demeanor even more awkward than usual, one might have gotten the impression he didn’t really want to do this. And perhaps he didn’t. Perhaps he was just doing what he was told to do by his expert advisors.
Similarly, consider President Obama’s feckless acquiescence to the toppling of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011. What threat did Gaddafi represent, a leader who thoroughly neutered and renounced his nation’s role in international terrorism nearly a decade earlier?
To possibly answer this question, two historical facts bear mentioning. In 2001, Iraq began receiving oil export payments in Euros. This action threatened to spiral into all of the OPEC nations moving their oil-export payments into Euros. While that threat seems absurd today, given the subsequent financial fragility of the European currency union, it might have seemed a very real threat to dollar hegemony back in 2003.
Moving forward to 2010, Gaddafi in Libya had begun to make genuine progress on a dream to unite the African continent in a single currency union. He proposed to create an independent hard currency in Africa. Despite his reputation in the West as a mad despot, he was respected as a leader of the pan-African movement and, as the BBC later reported, “Colonel Gaddafi pushed for a United States of Africa to rival the U.S. and the European Union.”
Questioning the Scope and Purposes of American Empire
Americans who question the rationale and trajectory of the American empire are not just Trump and the people who voted for him. They range from leaders like Tulsi Gabbard to Antifa insurgents, whose allegiances and priorities remain frighteningly malleable. How this opposition will coalesce if a new war starts is anybody’s guess.
Trump, whose foreign policy of “principled realism” was far more coherent than his detractors ever recognized, refused to start new wars. When Iran shot down an expensive American military drone in the Persian Gulf, against the advice of his advisors Trump refrained from massive armed retaliation. When Trump was advised to escalate America’s involvement in Syria, he refused, an action which probably kept Turkey in the NATO alliance. When Trump’s military presented him with no options in Afghanistan that didn’t include an endless, costly occupation, Trump dismissed them and told them to come back when they had other options.
These are Trump’s true crimes. “Nationalism” according to Trump means he is unwilling to spend trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to aggressively maintain an American military empire.
The biggest flaw in America’s elite rejecting Trump, ultimately, is not simply that they are imperialists and Trump is not. It’s their complete misunderstanding of America’s best long-term interests even if American hegemony is the best path forward for Americans. Examples of these misunderstandings are numerous.
Fighting tactical wars that cost trillions of dollars takes away resources to rebuild America’s military for the 21st century. Strategic and technological supremacy ought to be the primary goal of the American military, but that objective may be fatally undermined when every year, America’s military budget is overwhelmingly committed to expensive overseas operations using legacy weapons and tactics.
Fighting wars to guarantee the ongoing hegemony of the U.S. dollar is also problematic. The Euro turned out to be a paper tiger. An African currency union was a distant dream. If the underpinnings of fiat currencies are the wealth, economic resiliency, and established trading relationships of the nations that issue them, then does anyone actually think China’s Yuan can replace the U.S. dollar? China is a thin pan on a hot fire, with a restive population, ridden with even more debt than the United States, utterly dependent on imported food and fuel. And nobody wants to live in a world dominated by the Chinese Communist Party. There’s no other nation even worth mentioning.
So what else makes Trump such a threat to the American empire? It isn’t his foreign policy or defense priorities. Is it his trade negotiations? Why? Does anyone seriously believe America can continue to hollow out its strategic industries without jeopardizing not only the welfare of the American worker, but also the viability of the American empire? Does anyone honestly claim that importing refugees from chaotic regions where American bombs have destabilized, enraged and decimated entire nations will either help those nations or contribute to America’s internal stability? What if instead we just stopped bombing them?
Maybe it’s Trump’s skepticism regarding “climate change” that has made him a threat to America’s empire builders. That would make sense, but not because climate change is an imminent threat to human survival and Trump is standing in the way of taking action. The real reason America’s elites promote climate alarmism is because it is an instrument of domestic repression and international imperialism.
Denying people in Africa and other developing regions the ability to develop natural gas, nuclear, and hydroelectric power is denying them the ability to emerge economically. It’s also a horrifically short-sighted fraud, even from an environmental perspective, because prosperity is the surest guarantee that people will collectively, and entirely voluntarily, reduce their birthrates.
The true conflict in America is not between toxic nationalists and benevolent defenders of democracy. It is between people who want America to look after its own citizens and stop aggressive military interventions overseas, versus people who have gotten very wealthy and very powerful by abandoning their own people, while trying to conquer the world.