With his decision on Thursday to pull out of the Paris Climate Accords, President Trump put to rest the question whether his administration intends to follow the nationalist policies advocated by Trump’s chief strategist and former Breitbart editor Steve Bannon — the answer is an almost gleeful “yes.”
The Trump administration is now revealed to be a full-fledged right-wing nationalist regime. America joins many countries whose politics have been captured by far-right nationalist movements, most notably Great Britain, which in a stunning turn of events voted last year to withdraw from the European Union. France recently turned back such a nationalist tide in the form of wretched presidential candidate Marine Le Pen, who thankfully lost that election in a landslide victory for new French President Emmanuel Macron.
That Trump’s decision to become the only country other than Syria and Nicaragua to reject the Paris accords is based on short-sighted nationalism was clearly spelled out in Trump’s dark and paranoiac speech Thursday. After reciting dubious statistics generated by the energy industry about how compliance with the accords would harm the U.S. economy, Trump made plain that on his watch international relations is purely us versus them:
This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage. A cynic would say the obvious reason for economic competitors and their wish to see us remain in the agreement is so that we continue to suffer this self-inflicted major economic wound. We would find it very hard to compete with other countries from other parts of the world.
Trump’s full-throated embrace of the idea that America must go it alone and that all of the other nations on Earth are out to get us should not come as a surprise. Trump’s entire campaign was based not just on nationalism, but on racist anti-immigrant rhetoric. He wanted to ban Muslims from entering the country based on nothing but their religious faith. He still wants to build a “big beautiful wall” between the U.S. and Mexico. And ominously, he hired Breitbart’s Steve Bannon as his chief strategist. Bannon is a rabid nationalist of the kind the KKK applauds as one of their own.
The right-wing media is joyful over Trump’s big fuck you to the environment and the future of our planet. One of the Breitbart wingnuts wrote:
President Trump announced on Thursday the U.S. is withdrawing from the December 2015 Paris accords on climate change. It was not only the right thing to do, it was so obviously the only thing to do that the virulent criticism of his decision paints a dark picture of how far leftward “elite opinion” in our country has drifted.
Leaving aside how Trump’s decision threatens to destroy America’s ability to conduct foreign policy and function as a world leader on environmental and social justice issues, the virulent nationalism the Trump administration has now embraced threatens America herself.
First and foremost, economic isolationism, which is a necessary element of economic nationalism, in the modern global economy is nearly impossible to achieve, and it would be economically disastrous if it were achieved. The last time America embraced even political and military isolationism, between the two world wars, the global economy existed but it was far less important than it is today. It mattered relatively little to America to rely solely on its own raw materials and labor to feed the demands of its people.
This not the case today. America is now part of an intertwined global economy that cannot be put back behind national borders without doing grievous harm to the economies of America and the world. Your IPhone was designed and sold by an American company that outsources the manufacturing to China. Your car was likely made by a foreign company, although it may have been manufactured here in Alabama. The clothes you are wearing were probably made in Vietnam or India.
Aha, Trump supporters say. Trump is going to bring all those manufacturing jobs back to America! Problem solved.
No, it isn’t. If America insisted that all textile products sold in America be manufactured in America by American companies, two things would result. First, the Americans working in those textile jobs would likely all make minimum wage, which is far from enough to support a family, rent, transportation, utilities, and food for even a small family. America has plenty of minimum wage jobs. What America needs are more jobs paying a living wage, not more poverty-level jobs. Second, the price of clothes would skyrocket. Blue jeans would no longer be affordable to the average American.
Trump’s particular brand of nationalism is also distinctly racist and xenophobic, which isn’t surprising since nationalism itself is grounded in the same “us versus them” mentality as racism. Such sentiments are debasing both to those who feel and express them and those who are on the receiving end of them. This nation has a long way to go in resolving the conflicts among our races and national identities, but we also have come a long way from the Jim Crow days. The new anti-immigrant rhetoric, tinged as it inevitably is with racism, is a step backwards in our national quest for racial harmony.
American nationalism, whether it’s called “America First” or one of the many other dubious labels floating around on white nationalist websites, also turns its back on the history of our alliance with Europe following the Second World War. Perhaps the wisest single foreign policy the United States ever undertook was the Marshall Plan, which transferred billions of dollars from America to European countries (including Germany and Italy) so that those countries could rebuild. It was a smashing success and forms the bedrock foundation of our alliance with the NATO powers. In enabled Germany in particular to turn from its fascist history and become one of the most progressive democracies in the world.
Could you imagine Trump and his supporters getting behind such a generous and farseeing idea?
Trump doesn’t read and so naturally he doesn’t read history, but an alternative to the Marshall Plan was carried out a quarter century before the end of World War II. What was then called The Great War ended in Germany’s defeat in 1918, a defeat that was capped by the Treaty of Versailles, a sickeningly unfair armistice agreement that the victorious Allies forced on Germany. The Versailles accord, rather than providing funds for Germany to rebuild its shattered country, imposed onerous war reparation obligations that Germany could never have been expected to repay and still feed its people while still repairing the damage suffered during the war. The resulting deprivation and hardships born by the German people for the next decade created a resentful nationalist sentiment that paved the way for the rise of Adolph Hitler to power in 1933.
Versailles was Trumpian in its shortsightedness, greed, and tribalism. It was Trumpian in its decision to punish a guilty government by punishing its citizens, who were human beings with the misfortune of living under a government that lost a war. The Treaty of Versailles, in short, was the ultimate self-defeating expression of nationalism by the victorious Allies, and the result was a German nationalist backlash that catapulted an unimportant man into a position that let him unleash war on Europe and a Holocaust for millions of Jews and other “undesirables.”
Trump’s nationalism has in five short months begun to shatter America’s most important international relationships, some of which were forged during war and some of which were born of the most breathtaking act of international generosity the world has ever known.
Nationalism is not generous. It is greedy. It is also shortsighted even as an expression of national interest. For all its seeming generosity, the Marshall Plan’s greatest beneficiary was the United States in terms of international trade and national security, particularly during the Cold War’s threat from the old USSR and its eastern European satellites.
But Trump’s nationalism does not understand that. Trump’s nationalism casts every international transaction as a zero-sum negotiation where one side wins and the other loses. This is how he frames the issue of American participation in the climate deal. It was “bad for America” and foreign leaders “cheered” because America under the accords was at a competitive disadvantage.
He and his followers don’t care that America’s lot is cast with the world’s, because it is the world, including Americans, who will suffer from the rising sea levels and debilitating droughts that will sear the planet if greenhouse emissions are not reduced.
If Trump had been in charge of America following World War II, he would have rejected the Marshall Plan as a “bad deal” not in our national interests. And without the Marshall Plan, Europe itself may very well have fallen to the Communists in the 1960’s and America’s experiment in democracy could have ended in military defeat or worse.
Nationalism is bad for America. But it takes the kind of wisdom and foresight that the Greatest Generation had, and which Trump utterly lacks, to understand that.