An excerpt from ‘A New Foreign Policy’

EXCEPTIONALISM IN THE ERA OF TRUMP 

Donald  Trump’s  “America  First”  foreign  policy  represents  a new  and  vulgar  strain  of  American  exceptionalism.  It  proudly proclaims  its  intention  to  maintain  U.S.  military  dominance as  the  core  pillar  of  U.S.  foreign  policy.  Trump’s  National Security  Strategy uses  the  term  “overmatch”  to  signify  this military dominance, stating that the U.S. must “restore  the  readiness  of  our  forces  for  major  war,  and  grow the  size  of  the  force  so  that  it  is  capable  of  operating  at sufficient  scale  and  for  ample  duration  to  win  across  a  range of  scenarios.”

A  fundamental  pillar  of  Trump’s  America  First  exceptionalism  is  therefore  the  intention  to  invest  massively  in  a  new  arms race with China, Russia, and other adversaries. 

America  First  introduces  several  distinctive  strains,  however.  The  first  is  a  naked  nationalism  in  a  world  of  clashing interests.  “We  are  prioritizing  the  interests  of  our  citizens  and protecting  our  sovereign  rights  as  a  nation,”  writes  Trump  in his  cover  letter  to  the  new  strategy.  “A  central  continuity  in history  is  the  contest  for  power.  The  present  time  is  no  different,”  states  the  NSS.  “China  and  Russia  want  to  shape  a  world antithetical  to  U.S.  values  and  interests”—antithetical  to,  not merely competitive with. 

The second is racism. America First is really White America First.  Trump’s  electoral  campaign  against  “Mexican  rapists” and  “Muslim  terrorists,”  his  failures  to  denounce  American white  supremacists,  his  attack  on  immigration  to  the  United States  from  “shithole”  countries  including  Haiti  and  African nations,  his  call  for  more  immigration  from countries  like  Norway,  all  play  directly  to  his  electoral  base:  older,  less-educated, white  Americans.

In  this  regard,  Trump  is  part  of  a  worldwide  wave  of  antiimmigrant  and  racist  politics  stoked  by  the  large-scale  migration  and  refugee  movements  of  the  past  quarter  century. Trump also represents the latest virulent outbreak of America’s long  history  of  racism.  As  I  recount  in  chapter  17,  America’s 1924  Immigration  Act  was  indeed  designed  to  spur  immigration  from the Nordic countries.  Not  surprisingly,  it  was  much appreciated  by  Hitler  and  the  Nazi  immigration  lawyers. 

The third  distinctive  strain  of  America  First  exceptionalism is  economic  populism,  albeit  of  a  Trumpian  variety.  Populism, in  name,  means  an  appeal  to  the  average  person,  the  “common man  and  woman,”  against  special  interests.  I  have  no  problem,  and  indeed  I  have  much  sympathy,  with  this  sentiment. Where  populists  like  Trump  go  wrong  is  that  they  stir  their followers  with  simplistic  diagnoses  and  promises  that  they cannot  fulfill.  Then,  to  try  to  rescue  themselves,  they  usually raid  the  treasury,  with  deficit  spending  to  eke  out  more  time in  power.  They  typically  fall  from  power  when  their  promises of  higher  living  standards  fail  to  materialize,  and  the  budget deficits produce high inflation or a solvency crisis. 

Trump’s  economic  populism  has  some  important  distinctive  elements.  First,  unlike  typical  populism,  Trump’s  policies are  benefiting  mainly  the  rich  rather  than  his  working-class base  of  voters.  A  truly  populist  tax  cut  would  have  given  most of  the  benefits  to  workers  and  their  families,  not  to  wealthy and  powerful  corporations,  as  is  in  fact  the  case.  As  is  often  the case  with  economic  populists,  Trump’s  tax  cut  will  increase the  budget  deficit,  putting  added  strains  on  future  budgetary policies and inflation. 

Second,  Trump’s  economic  populism  takes  aim  at  foreigners,  further  shielding  America’s  own  rich  from  scrutiny and  fiscal  accountability.  Trump  has  told  his  working-class followers  that  their  travails  are  due  mainly  to  illegal  migrants and  overseas  Mexican  and  Chinese  workers,  all  of  whom, Trump  claims,  have  taken  the  jobs  of  hardworking  (mainly white)  Americans.  They’ve  gotten  away  with  it,  according  to Trump,  because  American  trade  negotiators  have  given  away the store to Mexico, China, and other foreign countries. 

As  I  explained  in  Building  the  New  American  Economy, Trump’s  view  is  nonsense.  Yes,  trade  has  opened  the  gap between  rich  and  poor  in  the  U.S.  economy,  not  because  of unfair  trade  practices  abroad  or  bad  trade  negotiations  but because  the  United  States  exports  capital-intensive  goods  in return  for  labor-intensive  imports  from  abroad.  The expansion of  this  kind  of  trade  indeed  widens  inequality  in  the  United States,  but  the  correct  response  is  to  keep  trade  open  (which enlarges  the  overall  U.S  and  world  economy)  while  redistributing  income  from  America’s  rich  to  the  poor,  a  solution  that runs  diametrically  opposite  to  Trump’s  policies  of  aiding  the rich at the expense of the poor. 

All  of  this  raises  an  ultimate  question.  For  whose  benefit is  America  First?  Is  the  arms  buildup  really  designed  to  promote  U.S.  national  security?  Is  the  sale  of  hundreds  of  billions of  dollars  of  armaments  to  Middle  Eastern  nations  really designed  to  promote  peace?  Was  the  2017  tax  cutting  really designed  to  boost  living  standards  of  average  households? Is  the  emerging  economic  war  with  China  really  to  raise  the well-being of typical Americans? 

Perhaps  the  one  overriding  truth  of  America  politics  in recent  decades  is  the  overarching  political  power  of  the  main corporate  lobbies:  the  military-industrial  complex,  Wall Street,  Big  Oil,  and  Big  Health  Care. Perhaps  the  best  way  to understand  Trump’s  economic  policies  is  to  focus  not  on  his populist rhetoric but on the interests of the powerful corporate lobbies.  The  tax  cuts  and  anti-environmental  actions  of  the Trump  administration  certainly  favor  Big  Oil,  Wall  Street, the  military-industrial  complex,  and  Big  Health  Care.  In  the name  of  populism,  we  see  a  policy  of  corporatism—putting the  companies,  not  America,  first.  As  with  most  populisms, Trump’s  variety  is  almost  sure  to  breed  significant  disappointment among Americans, including Trump’s own political base. 

American  exceptionalism  today  is  more  than  ever  divorced from  reality.  This  is  a  hard  truth,  and  one  that  many  Americans are  not  yet  willing  to  accept—as  evidenced  by  the  unexpected electoral  success  of  Trump’s  rallying  cry  to  “make  America great  again.”  For  Trump  and  the  exceptionalists  like  him, the  United  States  is  still  the  unrivaled  and  unmatched  global superpower.  America’s  economy  is  still  number  1,  as  long  as the  unfairness  of  foreigners  is  checked  and  brought  under control. In truth, the remedies for America’s security and economic  needs  lie  not  in  bashing  foreigners,  expanding  the  arms race,  cutting  corporate  taxes,  or  increasing  the  budget  deficit. T he  real  answers  lie  in  global  cooperation;  a  boost  of  critical  investments  at  home  in  education,  skills,  technology,  and environmental  protection;  and  more  help  for  the  poor,  paid for  by  more  tax  collections,  rather  than  yet  another  round  of tax cuts, and by savings from a bloated military budget.

 

An excerpt from 'A New Foreign Policy'