The old order of American politics crumbled on Tuesday with an election that signaled an inflection point in the nation’s history. Donald Trump’s victory, almost universally considered impossible until it happened, shattered the globalist consensus of America’s governing elite and replaced it with a nationalist sensibility exemplified in the slogan, "America First." Never in the country’s history has it seen an anti-status quo, anti-establishment politician of such force and effectiveness.
The globalist consensus contained a number of central tenets, all rejected by Trump. They included:
— We live in a unipolar world, with America at its center as an "indispensable nation" with an imperative and mandate to dominate events and developments around the world; spread Western-style democratic capitalism; and salve the hurts and wounds of humanity in far-flung precincts of the globe.
— The nation state is in decline and is being replaced by emergent multinational super-institutions such as the European Union, the United Nations and, presumably, Hillary Clinton’s proposed "hemispheric common market," with open trade and open borders.
— The demands of constituent identity groups, based mostly on ethnicity and gender affiliations, are more important than any concept of national unity.
— Borders have lost their significance as nationalist sentiments have receded, and while something probably needs to be done about illegal immigration, largely to assuage political pressures, there is nothing essentially wrong with mass immigration.
— Free trade is an imperative in the post-Cold War era of globalization to lubricate global commerce and spur global prosperity.
— Despite the advent of Islamist radicalism, fueled primarily by intense anti-Western fervor, there is no reason to believe that large numbers of Muslims can’t be assimilated into Western societies smoothly without detriment to those societies.
This globalist consensus was embraced by American presidents from Bush I to Clinton I to Bush II to Obama and then to Clinton II. It was so entrenched within the top echelons of American society—the federal bureaucracy, the media, academia, big corporations, big finance, Hollywood, think tanks and charitable foundations—that hardly anyone could conceptualize any serious threat to it. Then Trump attacked it and marshalled a rowdy following of people bent on upending it. The globalist sensibility won’t go away, but it now is seriously challenged. The result is a new fault line in American politics.
The Trump constituency rejects most of the central tenets of the post-Cold War consensus. Its beliefs include:
— The American experiment in national building, with an attendant propensity for regime change, has been an utter failure, particularly in the Middle East, and needs to be replaced. America must be in the world but shouldn’t try to dominate it.
— Nationalism is a hallowed sentiment, tied to old-fashioned patriotism, and shouldn’t be denigrated or rejected.
— Identity group politics is eroding national cohesion and, through political correctness, is threatening free speech on the country’s college campuses; that threat will grow throughout society if not checked.
— Borders matter; countries without clearly delineated and enforced borders soon cease to be countries. Immigration numbers should be calibrated to ensure smooth absorption and assimilation.
— Free trade, as practiced in the post-Cold War era, is killing us, hollowing out the country’s industrial base and devastating its middle class.
— Islamist radicalism represents a serious threat to homeland security, and it is merely prudent, therefore, to consider adjustments in immigration policy as one tool in seeking to lessen the threat.
Clearly, a clash is inevitable between the post-Cold War elites and the Trump constituency. And its intensity was presaged by writer and thinker Shelby Steele in Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal . Steele traced the emergence over recent decades of the view that America was a "victimizing nation," tainted by its history, particularly slavery, its treatment of its native Indian populations, and its diminishment of women and minorities. This raised a perceived imperative, in the view of many, that the country must redeem itself from its oppressive past. This could be done, writes Steele, only through a kind of deference "toward all groups with any claim to past or present victimization."
But this call for deference assumed a moral high ground—and thus became a political weapon. From this moral position, the deference cadres could look down upon those who didn’t embrace the argument and stigmatize them as "regressive bigots." Writes Steele: "Mrs. Clinton, Democrats and liberals generally practice combat by stigma." He cites Clinton’s famous "basket of deplorables," those Trump followers who don’t embrace her view of America as victimizing nation. They are stigmatized as "irredeemable," subject to her sense of political correctness. "And political correctness," says Steele, "functions like a despotic regime."
Then along came Trump, a thoroughly non-deferential figure, "at odds with every code of decency," who "invoked every possible stigma" and rejected each with dismissive sneers. "He did much of the dirty work," writes Steele, "that millions of Americans wanted to do but lacked the platform to do."