Trump’s apoc­a­lyp­tic, na­tion­al­ist in­se­cu­rity

Los Angeles Times - - OP-ED - Matt Welch is ed­i­tor at large of Rea­son, a mag­a­zine pub­lished by the lib­er­tar­ian Rea­son Foun­da­tion, and a con­tribut­ing writer to Opin­ion. By Matt Welch

If Amer­ica con­tin­ues run­ning a $60-bil­lion an­nual trade deficit with Mex­ico, Pres­i­dent Trump com­plained to his south-of-the-bor­der coun­ter­part in a con­ver­sa­tion leaked to the Wash­ing­ton Post last week, “We will not be the United States any­more.”

As an ev­i­den­tiary mat­ter, Trump’s fore­cast was bonkers, un­less you think that 1975 — the last year the U.S. ran a trade sur­plus — marked some kind of eco­nomic high-wa­ter mark, or that the trough in Amer­i­can­ness be­tween 1960 and 1998 co­in­cided neatly with Ron­ald Rea­gan’s sec­ond term, when the deficit was high­est.

But when it comes to Trumpian apoc­a­lyp­ti­cism, gen­er­al­ized dread mat­ters more than quo­tid­ian specifics.

Can­di­date Trump, for ex­am­ple, used the “we either have a coun­try or we don’t” for­mu­la­tion on at least two is­sues: de­port­ing 5 mil­lion im­mi­grants in the coun­try il­le­gally, and walling up 2,000 miles of the Mex­i­can bor­der. Although he has since backed away from both po­si­tions, the threat of loom­ing civ­i­liza­tional dis­fig­ure­ment ap­par­ently re­mains, and formed the main theme of the pres­i­dent’s big for­eign pol­icy speech in Poland last month.

“The fun­da­men­tal ques­tion of our time is whether the West has the will to sur­vive,” Trump warned in Warsaw, darkly. “Do we have the con­fi­dence in our val­ues to de­fend them at any cost? Do we have enough re­spect for our cit­i­zens to pro­tect our bor­ders? Do we have the de­sire and the courage to pre­serve our civ­i­liza­tion in the face of those who would sub­vert and de­stroy it?”

It’s that in­ward-look­ing anx­i­ety that dis­tin­guishes the blood-and­soil na­tion­al­ism of Trump, Steve Ban­non and Stephen Miller (who helped craft the Warsaw speech and the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s im­mi­gra­tion-re­stric­tion­ism) from the Cold War con­fi­dence of Rea­gan and the us-vs.-them cock­i­ness of post-9/11 Ge­orge W. Bush. It’s hard to imag­ine a Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil strate­gic plan­ning di­rec­tor of any other mod­ern pres­i­dent write, as the re­cently fired Rich Hig­gins did in a memo in May, that a broad sec­tion of the Amer­i­can po­lit­i­cal spec­trum has “aligned with Is­lamist or­ga­ni­za­tions at lo­cal, na­tional and in­ter­na­tional lev­els” to form a “counter-state” in which “they seam­lessly in­ter­op­er­ate through co­or­di­nated syn­chro­nized in­ter­ac­tive nar­ra­tives.”

The apoc­a­lyp­tic style is hardly new to Amer­i­can pol­i­tics: We’re used to such howls from wilder­ness fig­ures such as Pat Buchanan and 1992-era Jerry Brown. More hereto­fore suc­cess­ful pols, how­ever, found ways to sig­nal to their friends in the me­dia that pop­ulist dem­a­goguery is just a mask to be worn dur­ing pri­mary sea­son. Sure, the Hil­lary Clin­tons of the world would cam­paign against free trade, but in our hearts we knew they’d flip-flop. Part of the col­lec­tive shud­der of re­vul­sion you can ex­pe­ri­ence daily from the na­tional press comes from the fact that Trump and the Ban­non­ites ap­pear to ac­tu­ally mean it.

The style is also thriv­ing on the left. Bernie San­ders, with his daily calls for “revo­lu­tion” and re­lent­less bark­ing about “oli­garchy,” am­ply demon­strates that apoc­a­lyp­tic pol­i­tics is not just for the alt-right. In­sin­cere base-pan­der­ing is out, apolo­get­ics for true-be­liever hy­per­bole is in.

It’s not hard to see why. Adding to the dis­re­pute of what the Bernieites call “ne­olib­er­als” and the Trump­ists deride as “glob­al­ists” is 16 years of ob­jec­tively lousy re­sults from the al­legedly grown-up cen­ter: ane­mic eco­nomic growth, botched gov­ern­ment in­ter­ven­tions, drift­less war. In­deed, many of the same char­ac­ters loudly be­moan­ing both Trump­ism and Bernienomics — John Ka­sich, any­one? — cheered on the Iraq War and the 2008 fi­nan­cial bailouts, while ag­i­tat­ing for even more mil­i­tary saber-rat­tling abroad. They are gen­er­ally too busy de­liv­er­ing lec­tures on “ci­vil­ity” to ac­knowl­edge their own role in fer­til­iz­ing the field for the prophets of gloom, of­ten by over­hyp­ing var­i­ous “ex­is­ten­tial threats” to the Amer­i­can way of life.

Yet that doesn’t make the Ban­non­ites right that the mod­ern world is a shad­owy ca­bal in which top politi­cians col­lude “with in­ter­na­tional banks to plot the de­struc­tion of U.S. sovereignty in or­der to en­rich these global fi­nan­cial pow­ers.” Mea­sures de­signed to re­duce trade deficits — in­clud­ing tar­iffs or bor­der taxes — have an al­most un­blem­ished record of mak­ing Amer­i­cans worse off than they would have been. Chok­ing off le­gal im­mi­gra­tion flows is a sure­fire way to get more of the il­le­gal va­ri­ety.

But what re­ally sears is the in­se­cu­rity of it all. Trump, Ban­non, et al, lost faith in Amer­ica right be­fore gain­ing at least par­tial power to steer its for­tunes. They worry that this 241-year-old ex­per­i­ment in self-gov­er­nance lacks the met­tle and might to with­stand the com­bined forces of state­less Is­lamists, face­less Euro­crats and sec­ond­world strivers.

What hap­pens when that civ­i­liza­tional pes­simism col­lides with the Amer­i­can sys­tem’s ar­chi­tec­tural im­ped­i­ments to get­ting stuff done? Early signs point to re­crim­i­na­tions, para­noid fin­ger-point­ing and not a small amount of panic at be­ing ex­posed as yet an­other ad­min­is­tra­tion to not de­liver on its prom­ises to the base.

“I have to have Mex­ico pay for the wall,” Trump be­seeched Peña Ni­eto, within his first month in of­fice. “I have to.” From the na­tion­al­ist fi­nally brave enough to take on Mex­ico, to the politico beg­ging its pres­i­dent for a way to save face: No won­der Trump’s insecure.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.