Trump’s Campaign Slogan — “Make America Great Again” — Reflects Rise in National Sentiment

It is often said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. The turn to the Right in America started with a backlash against the disastrous ideas, both social and economic, that came out of the 1960s and reached fruition with the “stagflation” and anarchy of President Jimmy Carter. A new generation has suffered through the painfully slow half-recovery under President Barack Obama. Thus, both the libertarian and democratic-socialist models have failed. This leaves only a genuine conservative model to save the day, if it can find a champion. 


By William R. Hawkins | October 5, 2015

Whatever one thinks of Donald Trump’s campaign style, he has provoked critics to reveal more about themselves than they had intended – or wanted people to realize.

Consider a U.S. News & World Report article written by Dalibor Rohac of the American Enterprise Institute and Jan Zinsky of the Peterson Institute for International Economics (September 24). Entitled “Beware Populist Snake Oil,” it attacks Trump for being part of “a revolt against the modern, globalized world.” The authors deplore a rise in “nationalist sentiments” and oppose those who promise a “return to greatness” for their countries. These are inherently conservative feelings, of course, so Rohac and Zinsky try to link Trump to far-left socialists like Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and UK Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn to counter his appeal to the Right.

Yet, it is clear that Trump is not a socialist, and Tsipras is only a nationalist because he wants relief from EU pressure to pay back the debts socialism ran up. Corbyn favors government ownership of major industries, confiscatory tax rates and unilateral disarmament. His focus is class conflict, not national unity.

Rohac and Zinsky cite a study by sociologist Alina Polyakova which “found that the countries that were hit worst by the financial crisis of 2008 experienced a surge in nationalist sentiments. She argues that economically insecure citizens looked to their national governments for protection. Curiously, however, this instinct has not translated into stronger support for mainstream left-wing parties.”

The confusion Rohac and Zinsky feel reflects the fact that they work for organizations funded by transnational corporations who think they are above or at least outside the national societies in which people live. These business interests want open borders; which means the end of the nation-state. They want to move people, money, technology, and factories around the world to maximize their incomes regardless of any broader impact. Trade deficits and illegal immigration are bad for the country, but will be defended by people like Rohac and Zinsky representing those who profit by causing problems for others.

This is what “free trade” means, free of any rules that would seek to protect citizens from the acts of powerful entities that do not care about what happens to them or their countries. This even means freedom to help build up the strength of geopolitical rivals, as so many firms have been doing in China – and want to do in Iran when sanctions are lifted.

This is not a new phenomenon. When Republicans won control of both houses of Congress in 1994, Fortune magazine (February 6, 1995) ran a cover story entitled “The New GOP to Big Business: Drop Dead,” Fortune complained that Republicans were no longer primarily concerned with advancing corporate interests. The New Right was focused on larger social issues, and national security as well. “Business influence began giving way to ideology, of course, with the ascent of that wrinkly anti-establishmentarian Ronald Reagan” ran the argument. So as strong an advocate as Reagan was of capitalism, he is still criticized in some business circles for being a patriot and looking at the bigger picture.

Business does not want anyone in Washington to think about anything but them, just as they do not think about anything but themselves. But why would anyone vote for “leaders” who represent those who in time of crisis do not want to pull together for the common good, but only want to grab what they can and run away?

The nationalism that Polyakova cited is about the trust between citizens. The transnationals, however, cannot be trusted as they have no societal roots; nor can the politicians who are in their pocket. A recent Gallup poll found that 75% think there is wide-spread corruption in Washington, a figure that has been fairly constant since 2010.

The 2008 economic crisis did immense damage to hundreds of millions of people; throwing them out of work, destroying their savings and reducing their living standards. The Great Recession was the direct result of letting the “modern, globalized” corporation run rampant. But it was not just the public that turned to government for protection; the banks that caused the meltdown turned to the nation-state for bailouts after having made incredibly bad decisions. And they were saved because it was deemed important to the national economy. Rohac and Zinsky blame those who reacted to the crisis rather than those who created it; but then, that is what they are paid by their organizations to do.

Republicans lost the White House in 2008 and 2012 because voters blamed the financial crisis on libertarian deregulation and did not believe that Mitt Romney cared about them in 2012. The first was true, but the second was an unfair knock on a man with a long record of public service. Has the party learned anything from these defeats?

It is often said that a conservative is a liberal who has been mugged. The turn to the Right in America started with a backlash against the disastrous ideas, both social and economic, that came out of the 1960s and reached fruition with the “stagflation” and anarchy of President Jimmy Carter. A new generation has suffered through the painfully slow half-recovery under President Barack Obama. Thus, both the libertarian and democratic-socialist models have failed. This leaves only a genuine conservative model to save the day, if it can find a champion.

That model is strongly nationalistic. It puts rebuilding the American economy first. People must be able to buy property and plan for the future, if they are going to stand on the Right in politics. They must have something to conserve. Capitalism is very productive, but it must be harnessed, if it is to pull society forward.

The classic statement of nationalism comes from French historian Ernst Renan in 1882, “To have had glorious moments in common in the past, a common will in the present, to have done great things together and to wish to do more, those are the essential conditions for a people.” Only those who fit this bill can be called conservatives and be trusted to work for the common good.


William R. Hawkins, a former economics professor and Congressional staffer, is a consultant specializing in international economics and national security issues. He is a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.

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