by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Donald Trump is not the only nationalist in American politics, only the man of the moment most comfortable with nationalistic posturing. Senator Bernie Sanders may be a socialist crackpot from Brooklyn, but he also denounces the liberalization of immigration as “open borders,” which he insists is “a Koch brothers proposal” and “a right-wing proposal, which say, essentially, there is no United States.” Barack Obama parrots every national socialist from Benito Mussolini to Hugo Chávez with his talk of “a new nationalism,” while Hillary Rodham Clinton relies on the bluntly fascist term “economic patriotism,” “patriotism” here meaning – as it always means in the mouths of tyrants — doing what the government demands.
Trump’s nationalism is of a funny sort, though: It is a nationalism of retreat rather than one of advance, the opposite of the expansive and expansionist approach of nationalist pin-up boy Vladimir Putin. It is a nationalism that contemplates a reduced and restricted American role in world affairs, rather than an enlarged and entrenched one, with the United States abandoning military commitment abroad and disengaging from international trade and cooperation.
This is partly the result of pure ignorance. Trump complains that the United States spends a fortune defending other countries: “They aren’t paying us!” he thunders, and his admirers sway in the wind like a field of overripe corn. That complaint would make a great deal of sense if it were the case that the United States were simply doing Japan, Germany, and the Republic of Korea a favor by stationing troops there. But, of course, that is not the case, even if the fact eludes Trump and his partisans.
What Trump imagines is a simple system of tribute: The United States, being the superior military power, extorts payments from client nations under a system that would be entirely familiar to his pal Robert LiButti or any other mobster who has run a protection racket. What the United States actually is up to in its global military commitments is something else entirely.