Ever since the Brexit vote in Great Britain last summer followed by Donald Trump’s victory in November, coupled with the strengthening of political movements on the populist right in other European countries, we are besieged by analysts left and right who wonder whether we are witnessing a massive move to populist nationalism in the West. Then Trump continued using “America First” as a major theme of his administration and added to the paranoia in the U. S. media by hiring a notorious bogeyman to the left, former Breitbart executive Steve Bannon, as one of his top strategic advisors in the White House. The speculation about what this means for America, the West, and world order has since intensified, but several have at least given it some calm and considered thought, helped along by Bannon, who recently came out into the open for the first time since the inauguration with an appearance at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
In this appearance, he seemed to very helpfully offer somewhat of a creed in his view of nationalism, possibly even of Trump’s view of America First, although those words were not used. Here is what he said:
The center core of what we believe, that we’re a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global marketplace with open borders, but we are a nation with a culture and a reason for being.
If this is the core of American nationalism, there are a lot of folks who will buy into that, and many obviously already have. But he says more:
This movement is the working men and women in the world who are just tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos.
Sounds like the makings of a global tea party to me, but President Trump has made it clear that he has no interest in being “global president”. And whether or not he has fleshed out all the implications of America First is questionable, but I’ll bet Steve Bannon has, along with the nationalist, anti-globalist playbook that goes with it. We almost certainly can’t all agree about the nature of our culture and reason for being, even though the founders did a pretty good job of spelling it out and, in spite of a civil war, at one time there was a fair amount of consensus on that, but after all that’s what the current debate is about, isn’t it?
There is a lot more to come on this discussion and it won’t be resolved soon. One of the best comments I have seen came from an essay entitled “Why Historians Get It Wrong” by Jeremy Black in The New Criterion:
There is no greater gulf than that between, on the one hand, those who identify primarily with their nation, and are concerned at what globalization might be doing to it and to them personally, and, on the other hand, those who identify with wider abstractions and are more concerned with retaining the benefits that globalization has brought them.