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Nationalism and “Internationalism”

September 21, 2020

Presidents of the United States from Franklin Roosevelt to George W. Bush inherited a civil religion that Woodrow Wilson founded when he sent American troops to fight in the European war that we now refer to as “the first World War.”

My 2015 study, The Conservative Rebellion, explains how Woodrow Wilson’s war and the Progressive movement were true and faithful believers in a civil, or political religion, of “democracy.” A first principle of that political religion is belief in a system of international cooperation that aspires to supersede “balance of power” as the basis of political order and make the world “safe.” 

The “League of Nations,” championed by Woodrow Wilson, was ahead of its time, but thanks to demands rooted in the Great Depression and the addled mind of President Franklin Roosevelt during his fourth term in office, this Internationalist ideology prevailed. Donald Trump’s program—”Make America Great”—represents a rejection of Wilsonian idealism and the international organizations carrying out Woodrow Wilson’s idealism.

The conflict between President Trump’s “Nationalism” and the belief in “Internationalism,” whether that be practical cooperation or “religion” became clear when it was revealed that in a 2017 meeting at the Pentagon, Trump called the military brass, “dopes and babies.” On December 20, 2018, General Mathis resigned citing “disagreements” with President Donald Trump ranging from Syria to global alliances. On June 3, 2020, Trump tweeted “I didn’t like his ‘leadership’ style or much else about him, and many others agree. Glad he is gone!”

General Officers in the U.S. Military are trained to obey, which means working within a system of “global alliances,” international law and organizations shaped and sustained by Presidents from FDR to Obama. Confronted with a new nationalistic policy, highly critical of international organizations such as NATO, the world of these officers is challenged. Instead of the tactical doctrines they learned, the are now confronted with a demand that they think strategically.

Generals Patton and MacArthur thought strategically, Mathis does not.

Even President Trump has not explained his strategic doctrine of “Make America Great.” nor has he acknowledged any similarity between “Make America Great” and a new “nationalism” that is driving countries that were once satellites of the USSR, like Romania, Hungary, Poland, Ukraine, Georgia and Slovenia, to become “Great” as well. 

That lapse or inability to connect “American nationalism” to the striving to become “Great” of foreign countries does not bode well for American foreign policy after Trump leaves office and may shift a renewed American nationalism into more coercive modes than those which General Mathis criticized. After all, the “Jacobin” impulses now embodied by Democrat Party leaders in Washington State, Oregon, Wisconsin and Minnesota can only lead to forceful, even violent, reaction.

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