Trump vs. Hillary Is Nationalism vs. Globalism, 2016

This election's real political fault line.

Political Correctness: Given that globalists dominate the nation’s elite institutions and often exploit their position of power to ridicule and marginalize the so-called "Middle America" of ordinary citizens, who also happen to be nationalists, these people often feel on the defensive politically and culturally. And we are beginning to understand, courtesy of the Trump candidacy, just how angry they were at the emergence of the political correctness cadres who tell them what to think, how to regard the political issues of the day, and how they themselves will be regarded if they don’t toe the line (racist, homophobe and xenophobe are frequent threatened epithets). Globalists don’t care much about this phenomenon because it is employed largely in behalf of their views and philosophical outlook, including their globalist sensibilities. But nationalists care about it a lot. They send their kids to college in pursuit of betterment, and discover that political correctness is hammering away at the views and values they tried to teach their children as they were growing up. And their views and values aren’t allowed to compete in any free marketplace of ideas on campus but instead are declared inappropriate and intolerable before they are even uttered.  

Cultural Heritage: Nationalists care about their national heritage, which they view as a repository of wisdom and lessons handed down by our forebears in this grand experiment that is both mystifying and inspiring. Globalists, not so much. Nationalists seethe at the assault under way against so many giants of our heritage, flawed though they were (as are we today). Globalists are the ones leading the assault.  

On all of these fault lines, we see just how much pressure has been building up in recent years while the globalist elites concluded the issues involved were either settled or under control. Immigration—much talk about the need for reform but nothing done while the influx continued. Foreign policy—polls showing many Americans wary of interventionist adventurism while interventionist adventurism remained the prevailing attitude of governmental elites. Trade—a solid consensus among elites that free trade had no serious opposition, while industrial America crumbled. Political correctness—a blithe disregard for the sensibilities of non-globalist citizens. Cultural heritage—the power of the influence class brought to bear against those who cherish their country’s history. It isn’t surprising that the globalist class concluded that it really didn’t have to worry about any serious opposition out in the country.  

But they did, and Donald Trump was the messenger. He not only attacked out-of-control immigration but did it in such a way as to signal that this was one politician who truly intended to do something about it. Despite some of his boorish rhetoric, or perhaps even because of it, nationalist Americans perked up and rallied around. On foreign policy, he posed questions that nobody else was willing to raise: Why do we need NATO as currently constituted when the Soviet Union no longer exists to threaten Europe? Why should Americans pay for the defense of rich Europeans when they can easily afford to protect themselves? Why should America continue to pursue a policy of promiscuous regime change when recent history tells us it usually produces disaster and chaos? Why can’t the elites recognize and acknowledge the regional mess wrought by their ill-considered Iraq War? Trump answers these questions in ways that set the teeth of the elites on edge, but it turns out many Americans are asking the same questions and buying the Trump answers.  

On trade, Trump isn’t exactly original in his protectionist leanings. Such thinking has played a significant role at various times in American history—in good times and bad. And as recently as 1988, Democrat Richard Gephardt ran on the issue of "economic nationalism." But once again Trump has upended the old politics and opened up a new fault line. On political correctness, he offers a counter-assault that is breathtaking in its political distinctiveness and force. And on cultural heritage, he said it all when he said, "We’re going to be saying Merry Christmas again, folks."

Hillary Clinton, meanwhile, is the personification of the globalist elite—generally open borders, humanitarian interventionist, traditionally a free trader (though hedging in recent months), totally in sync with the underlying sensibilities of political correctness, a practitioner of identity politics, which lies at the heart of the assault on the national heritage. Nothing reflects this Clinton identity more starkly than the Clinton Foundation, a brilliant program to chase masses of money from across borders to fund the underpinnings of an ongoing political machine.  

It’s impossible to say at this early stage in the political season whether Trump, the candidate of the New Nationalism, actually has a chance to win the presidency. But, win or lose, he has shaken up the political system, introduced powerful new rhetoric and opened up a new political fault line between nationalism and globalism that isn’t going away anytime soon. For the globalist elites of America, it’s an entirely new era.  

Robert W. Merry is a contributing editor at the National Interest and an author of books on American history and foreign policy. 

Image: Donald Trump. Flickr/Gage Skidmore. CC BY-SA 2.0.