24 January 2017

Tripartite America?

Many ideologically conservative newspaper columnists continue to keep their distance from President Trump. In my newspaper, for instance, Cal Thomas is the only consistently pro-Trump writer (after opposing him for much of last year) you'll see during the week. In sharp contrast, George Will called the President's speech last Friday the worst inaugural address in American history. Jonah Goldberg deems it a "mixed bag" stylistically but "simply not a conservative speech and ...barely a Republican one." In his column, possibly without intending it, Goldberg offers an explanation for that discrepancy by dividing political opinion in the U.S. into three rather than two parts.

To the extent that Trump's speech was "a corrective to Obama's globalism," Goldberg enjoyed it. There was a limit to his enjoyment, however, since the speech ultimately was an "overreaction."

Forget the historical connotations of 'America First' (most people listening don't know them), this speech made no serious nod to American exceptionalism. He may use the word 'patriotism,' but what he means is nationalism. He may use the word 'winning,' but he means glory.

"Glory" however Goldberg understands it, is not a good thing in the context of a "nationalism" he opposes to "exceptionalism." The columnist has casually sketched an ideological axis with "globalism" and "nationalism" plotted at opposite poles and "exceptionalism," presumably, in the vital center. Goldberg sees Obamic globalism and Trumpian nationalism alike as betrayals of an exceptionalism he identifies with Republican conservative ideals of limited government and individual liberty. Globalists like Obama, he fears, will betray these principles -- to Goldberg the very ones that entitle the U.S. to exceptional influence in world affairs -- to accommodate other countries, while nationalists like Trump, Goldberg suspects, will sacrifice them for competitive advantage against other countries -- or to accommodate them, depending on how Goldberg feels about Russia.

Trump's inaugural had "one passing reference to freedom," the columnist notes, "but even that was couched in a nationalistic appeal to unity." He means the sentence in which the President said, "We all enjoy the same glorious freedoms and we all salute the great American flag." At first glance that would seem to be one of the least objectionable parts of Trump's speech, yet Goldberg implicitly objects, as if a "nationalistic appeal to unity" compromises the nation's exceptional liberties in some manner unclear to those uninitiated into the ideological mysteries.

Ideologues naturally imagine themselves occupying the center of any intellectual continuum, so that dissidents are extremists by virtue of proximity to the poles mapped out by the ideologue. But what if it's Trump and not Goldberg who occupies the center, so that the President's reputed nationalism contrasts with the opposite extremes of an allegedly submissive globalism based on an indiscriminate equality of nations, to the left, and, to the right, an aggressive exceptionalism that paradoxically claims for the land of limited government an entitlement to dominate the world. This orientation will seem more plausible to most observers, I'd bet, than one that implicitly deems it extremist to say, as Trump did, that "Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families." Goldberg cites that sentence as if it's part of the problem with Trump. I wonder whether he can defend that implication without sounding like an extremist himself.


Anonymous said...

Or perhaps Goldberg fears that Israel will no longer dominate the national expenditures.

Samuel Wilson said...

Estimates may vary but given Trump's recent affirmations of loyalty to Israel I think Goldberg would have nothing to worry about, if he worries about that at all.

Anonymous said...

Well, then that is one strike against tRump. 2 more and he's lost my vote next time around.