What about the future? Europeans who know little about the United States sometimes speculate that growing Hispanic-American and Asian-American populations will cause U.S. foreign policy to shift toward Latin America or Asia. In addition to displaying a certain subconscious racism, this is simply wrong. The members of American minority groups who rse to influential policymaking positions tend to be thoroughly assimilated to elite culture, and Democratic or Republican partisanship is a better guide to their views than ancestry.
Nor do Latin America or Asia provide Americans with appealing models of society. Latin America has largely replaced authoritarianism with multiparty democracy and some countries have enjoyed impressive economic growth. But from the perspective of North America, most of the republics south of the border remain underdeveloped if not failed states.
The nations of East Asia are not models for either American progressives or American conservatives, for different reasons. The communitarianism and rejection of mass immigration of Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and China offend progressive champions of multiculturalism and open borders. At the same time, East Asian economic nationalism is repugnant to American free-market conservatives and libertarians. As a vision of a supranational community to which Americans belong, there is unlikely to be either a Pacific Community nor a Pan-American Community with a purchase on the American imagination. Whoever wins the White House in 2020, the three familiar visions of America’s role in the world—Atlanticism, Anglophilia and New Worldism—are likely to continue to be important in the American political subconscious. Although some people will continue to be Atlanticists, others may claim that America has replaced the EU as the center of the global democratic revolution—as long as Democrats hold power again in the White House.
For their part, elite conservatives seem to have inherited the mantle of Anglophilia, combined in many cases with a Europhobia they pick up from their conservative British and continental European political soulmates. Many conservative intellectuals on both sides of the pond are drawn to the idea of the Anglosphere, seen as a rival by more liberal Atlanticists to the Atlantosphere. This Anglosphere school is likely to become more influential if the U.S. wages a new cold war against China while the EU appeases Beijing.
Atlantophilia, Europhilia and Anglophilia are elite ideologies. Most Americans are working-class people whose educations end with high school, perhaps with a year or two of extra community college or a couple of years of unfinished college education. Few of these Americans, White or not White, can afford to vacation either in the UK or continental Europe and do not think of Paris or London as a second home.
Most White Americans, moreover, are descendants of working-class or peasant Europeans who escaped from poverty or repression in the old country, only to have family members later drafted to fight in nightmarish wars in Europe as well as the Pacific theater. It is only natural for working-class White Americans to see Europe as a site of ancestral suffering and war, not as a noble laboratory for Green renewable energy policies and expanding the frontiers of trans rights and antiracism. And the majority of White Americans who are not the descendants of ethnic British are much less likely to Brits, Australians and New Zealanders as long-lost cousins to be reunited in one big, happy Anglosphere.
Much of the American population, then, will continue to adhere to the vision of America as a New World, albeit a New World whose southern border with the dangerous Old World is the Rio Grande rather than Tierra del Fuego. These populist New World continentalists (a less pejorative term than isolationists) are almost completely unrepresented in elite U.S. foreign policy circles. The absence of their views in policymaking circles creates periodic political crises over American foreign policy, because both Europhile/Atlanticist progressives and Anglophile conservatives, again and again, overdraw the limited bank account of American public support for their overly-ambitious foreign policy schemes.
Whether or not this is Donald Trump’s last year as president, the near-certainty of new episodes of reckless overreach by American foreign policymakers means that is not the last the country has seen of his America First policy.
Michael Lind is a professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs and the author of The New Class War: Saving Democracy from the Managerial Elite.