I’ve written a lot about Donald Trump in this space, basically arguing that his views signify a sea change in the foreign policy discourse in this country. His rise, I’ve averred, augurs the end of the neoconservatives as a viable political force within the GOP, and the beginning of an “isolationist” (i.e. anti-interventionist) trend in American politics that will upend the Establishment of both parties.
So why didn’t I vote for him when I had the chance?
I have to admit I was sorely tempted: the opportunity to make Bill Kristol a very unhappy man was almost too much to pass up. And yet, in the end, when I got my mail ballot, and I sat down and looked at it, I just couldn’t bring myself to do it for a very simple reason: the man isn’t the movement.
The Trump phenomenon is one thing, and Donald Trump the person is quite another. While the former is to be cheered and encouraged, for reasons I’ll get into in a minute, the latter is a very mixed bag.
To begin with, Trump has taken a number of positions I cannot endorse:
- He wants to increase domestic surveillance in the name of fighting the “war on terrorism.” At once point he suggested we would have to shut down “parts of the internet.”
- He advocates torture of alleged terrorists and says he would murder their families.
- While opposing US intervention in Syria – he once asked Bill O’Reilly “Do you want to own Syria?” – he now says he wants to create a “safe zone” in Syria so the refugees don’t have to come here. Call me crazy, but that looks like military intervention to me.
- He wants to deport 11 million illegal aliens, an operation that – assuming it isn’t stopped by the courts – would be inevitably ugly and provoke massive resistance.
But that’s just the beginning of my objections to Trump the candidate. After all, one could conceivably overlook these flaws in the name of changing the general orientation of US foreign policy. And yet, in the case of Trump, even that possibility is foreclosed by his unreliability.
While Trump conceives of his “flexibility” as emblematic of his ability to make a “good deal,” the reality is that he flip flops all over the place. One minute he’s totally against going into Syria, and the next minute he’s constructing “safe zones.” His mercurial nature is on display for all to see: once in office, it’s entirely possible he could do anything.
I take voting quite seriously, especially when it comes to the presidential level. If I pull the lever for a candidate who subsequently decides he has to bomb Country X, or violate our civil liberties, in the name of some alleged “emergency,” then I’m as morally responsible for his actions as if I’d given the order myself.
That’s why I resisted the temptation to vote for Trump, and contented myself with the pleasure of merely rooting for him. (Go here for an explanation of the difference between voting for a candidate and rooting for him.)
Yet my opinion of Trump as basically unreliable doesn’t preclude my enthusiasm for the movement he has spawned: far from it. Like Trump, his supporters have no systematic worldview: what they have are instincts. And those instincts are mostly good. Take a look at this interview by CBS News reporter Sopan Deb with some randomly selected attendees at a recent Trump rally:
“Deb: What brings you here to the Trump rally?
Trump supporter: This is about nationalism versus globalism.
Deb: What does that mean?
Trump supporter: That’s the political crux of the future.
Deb: Okay, what does that mean?
Trump supporter: Left and right are dead. Republican vs. Democrat is dead. Trump killed them both. It’s all about – either we’re going to be a nation-state with our own sovereignty or we’re gonna be at the whim of global interests, who have their own agendas, who don’t give a damn about anyone’s heritage, or anyone’s legacy, culture, customs, laws, and history. We’re gonna preserve that.”
For all the sneering by the elites at the supposedly ignorant masses who support Trump, that’s a very articulate and succinct summation of Trumpism. It is a cry of protest against the transnational elites who think they can determine the fate of nations: it is, in short, American nationalism at its best. And the implications for US foreign policy under the influence of this nationalism is good news for anti-interventionists.
A recent Pew poll shows that a majority of Trump supporters – 54 percent – think the US does “too much” meddling in the affairs of other nations. This reflects a more general trend in the population at large: a plurality, 41 percent, believe the US does “too much” abroad, while only 27 percent want us to do more. A clear majority – 57 percent – told the Pew pollsters that this country should “deal with its own problems and let other countries deal with their problems the best they can.”
Trump’s radical critique of the Iraq war, his opposition to NATO, his unwillingness to join in the bipartisan revival of the cold war with Russia, his scathing criticism of Hillary Clinton’s regime change operations in Libya and Syria – all this and more has mobilized a mass movement against the global ambitions of the Washington insiders in both parties.
The significance of this movement cannot be overstated. The fact is that millions of Americans are now essentially demanding an end to an empire that benefits them in no way, shape, or form. It isn’t coming from what we normally conceive of as the left, and it isn’t a movement of the conventional right – that paradigm is over and done with. As a libertarian – an advocate of an ideology that transcends these outdated categories – I can only applaud this development. As an anti-interventionist, I can only cheer as young attendees at Trump’s rallies patiently explain to reporters why they despise the globalism of the Bill Kristols and Hillary Clintons of this world.
No, I didn’t vote for Trump in the California primary: I didn’t vote for anyone for President. However, I am voting for the Trump movement: it’s the best thing to happen to this country since the original America First movement, which Trump has courageously evoked by adopting “America First” as the slogan of his campaign.
Like the candidate himself, that movement is not consistent: it has no systematic worldview. Yet that is no excuse for standing apart from it: it must be engaged by all serious anti-interventionists, and that is precisely what we are doing here at Antiwar.com.
This web site exists to educate the American people about the folly of US foreign policy, and the Trump movement is fertile ground for our efforts. Ignoring the crazed smears of the “Never Trump” crowd – did you ever notice how every anti-interventionist movement in American politics, from Ross Perot to Pat Buchanan to Ron Paul, has been libeled as “fascist,” “racist,” and even “Nazi” by the mainstream media? – we welcome the many new readers and supporters of Antiwar.com coming out of the Trump movement. And we’re doing more than merely welcoming them: we’re educating them and giving them the intellectual ammunition to carry on the fight for a foreign policy that truly puts America first.
But we can’t do it without your help. Unlike the globalists, who have the money of the billionaire class behind them, we don’t have unlimited resources: we depend on you, our readers and supporters, to give us the relatively small amount of funding we need to carry on the fight.
You may have noticed that the top of our front page has been dominated in the past few weeks by exhortations to contribute to our fundraising drive. This is something we have to do periodically just to keep going. We’ve been doing it for many year now, and I can tell you it doesn’t get any easier. This time is particularly hard, and so I’m appealing directly to my readers: we need your donations to start coming in at a much faster pace.
A small group of donors has raised $29,000 in matching funds – but please understand that we get only what we can match in smaller contributions. And time is running out!
Don’t assume that just because we’ve been around for 20 years and have weathered many hairy fundraising campaigns that we’ll weather this one. Because it ain’t necessarily so, as the old song goes. I don’t want to push the panic button just yet – but I’m getting close.
The future of the anti-interventionist movement has never been brighter. Millions are awakening to the reality of a foreign policy that has never served their interests – and is well on the way to bankrupting us. Those millions need to be reached out to, educated, and organized. And that’s the reason for Antiwar.com’s existence. But we can’t do it without your support – so please, make your tax-deductible contribution to Antiwar.com today.
Scheduling Note: I’ll be off for the Memorial Day weekend, working on a writing project. “Behind the Headlines” will return on Wednesday.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.