July 19, 2019

The Limits of Nationalism

“As President Trump reveled in air-force flyovers and a tank display this Fourth of July, the idea that dominates his administration’s domestic and foreign policies was on full display. That idea is nationalism, and Mr. Trump hopes it will reshape both American politics and the international order.

At home, Mr. Trump relies on the power of nationalism to isolate and marginalize his opponents. At a time when some on the left believe it is more important to denounce America’s failings than to hail its accomplishments, Mr. Trump seeks to wrap himself in a flag that most Americans revere.

We’ll know in November 2020 if this strategy has paid off at the polls. The results of a frankly nationalist foreign policy may take longer to assess. The Trump administration’s hostility to such multilateral institutions as the European Union, the World Trade Organization and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—and its apparent cynicism toward international law and democracy itself—have astounded and embittered many longtime American allies. This is costly; the trans-Atlantic alliance that grounded American policy for 70 years is visibly and rapidly weakening.

For many of Mr. Trump’s critics, “America First” foreign policy reflects demagogic populism, incompetence or worse. The reality is more complicated. As America’s foreign-policy focus shifts to the Indo-Pacific to balance the rise of China, the globalist, cosmopolitan ideas that guided American foreign-policy makers through the post-Cold War era may create as many problems as they solve.”

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