03 October 2018

Patriotism vs Liberty

Listening to the President's UN speech last week, Jonah Goldberg was less disturbed by Trump's laughable boasting than by his assertion of a "doctrine of patriotism" at odds with Goldberg's own "doctrine of liberty." Trump himself opposed patriotism to an "ideology of globalism," but Goldberg sees Trump's patriotism as a sort of individualism of nations while warning readers that individualism can mean profoundly different things depending on the beliefs or interests of individuals. Even liberals are individualists, this conservative observes while insinuating that liberal or progressive individualism doesn't quite jibe with conservative ideals of individual liberty. Trump's invocation of a doctrine of patriotism at the world body was grounded on an assertion of each nation's cultural uniqueness. That sounds unproblematic, except insofar as it implies that each nation really has a single, commanding culture that can compel conformity, but Goldberg worries that Trump may excuse other nations' offenses against liberty as expressions of distinct cultures that neither he nor we have the right to judge. He must have missed the part where Trump condemned communism, but Goldberg is clearly worried less about Marxism as such than about the threat of nationalist strongmen, regardless of ideology, with whom Trump seeks strong personal relationships.

Toning down his neoconservatism, Goldberg concedes that free nations have neither the obligation nor, implicitly, the right to "crush [barbaric] customs at gunpoint," but insists on their moral obligation to "bear witness to evil" in such places as the UN. He believes that "countries such as North Korea, China, Rusia" and even Iran, which Trump condemned in no uncertain terms, we're "Happy to hear the leader of the free world champion the 'doctrine of patriotism' instead of the doctrine of liberty." That reads as if Goldberg, not hearing what he wanted to hear, didn't hear what actually was said. It's remarkable how many people haven't gotten their heads around the idea that Trump refuses to treat any nation, except maybe for Iran, as an existential enemy or, with the likely exception of Israel, as an unconditional friend on the basis of ideology.  They miss the ways in which Trump has, if anything, intensified our rivalry with Russia, because he doesn't talk about Putin the way they want. His approach certainly isn't guaranteed to strengthen our position in the world or, as seems to be his primary goal, bolster the American economy, but it's hard to take Goldberg and other critics of his foreign policy or his alleged doctrines seriously when they can't even describe it in any way that resembles reality.

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