When Alexis de Tocqueville set forth his observations on American democracy, he began his story with a description of township government.
“It is man,” he said “who makes monarchies and establishes republics, but the township seems to come directly from the hand of God.” The oft-revered, sometimes maligned Frenchman’s instincts were sound on this point: American political institutions were harvested from the ground up, from local communities; all of American life, religious institutions, and social institutions were organized on a regional and — if one must use this unappealing term — populist basis. This made for a political culture that may not have appealed to the social prejudices of foreign observers more used to the corrupt glamour of heavily centralized states.
But the diverse American patchwork of regional, localized, and populist traditions cemented in place the blueprint of what would emerge as the uncanny nature of the American republic, one unlike history had ever seen: the parochial at the foundation of the imperial; the isolated town hall as the basis of the world’s mightiest and most far-flung state. In short, the industrious and free experimental country that was, in effect, preprogrammed to be “globalist” in scope and scale was by nature a country viscerally repulsed by the idea of the statist superstructure.
It is thus that the appeal of Donald Trump, in his graceless way, has tapped into this core of the American character. His electoral victory represents not so much a movement as it does a revival; a reawakening of the energetic ideal of local power, regional power, sovereign power against ghoulish One-World omnipotence.
What Is Globalism?
To analyze what this “globalist” phenomenon is that Trump has made the centerpiece of his wrath, one must first define globalism as a phenomenon. In general, globalism stands for the stateless State; for centralized power without a center — without a pivotal figure of responsibility or moral authority — made up of floating and interchangeable parts everywhere and nowhere at once. It is a network of central banks, international political and monetary institutions like the United Nations, the IMF, the World Bank; of academic conformity, media conformity and cultural conformity spread thick and impenetrable.
Trump’s stance is therefore nothing short of revolutionary. While he wobbles on many of his most outspoken policy positions — whether NATO, Israel, or Russia — there are three positions the new president announced that, somewhat ironically, are the most significant to his anti-global agenda and yet which have received the least attention in the media. The first was his statement shortly after the election that the United States would no longer engage in “reckless interventionism.” The second was his repeated skepticism of the Federal Reserve and his being one of the few political leaders to speak out against the dangers of a “bubble” economy. Third, and most importantly, is his remark that the nation-state must return as a force in world affairs — a statement no less a philosophical than a political manifesto. Where these ideas have most caught on is where they are needed most: in Europe, where the mood is changing as a result of Trump’s and where his anti-globalist message has hit the hardest and will have the most lasting impact.
Trumpism in Europe
“Fake elites create their own realities” — so said the billionaire businessman turned politician with a heartfelt streak of the populist and an occasional motor-mouth to get him into hot water. He transformed an entire political landscape while campaigning for the rights of the domestic worker versus global labor, against the EU, against international interventionism and for strongly vetted immigration as part of a maverick agenda to shake up and stay aloof of the post-war international system.
Yet this is not Trump, but rather his wealthier Swiss counterpart — Christoph Blocher —who anticipated the new American president by more than a decade. Blocher, who is now vice president of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and its former head through 2007, rose, Tillerson-like, from lowly student trainee to CEO of the Swiss plastics maker EMS Chemie. He is the best example of the anti-globalist, Trump spirit that is also spreading throughout Europe.
“People feel powerless against those who rule them, and for them, Trump is a release valve,” Blocher said in an interview after the November elections in the US. “The unexpected result … should give pause to those who are in power around the world.”
This coming year, the Netherlands, France, and Germany — and possibly Italy — will hold elections in which debate is likely to be driven by populist parties over issues including immigration. In Switzerland, Blocher has presided over certain campaigns that invited EU wrath for their severity. These included the 2009 Swiss referendum against building of minarets on mosques, which captured 57.5 percent of the national vote; the initiative to expel foreign criminals, garnering 52.3 percent, and the Stop Mass Immigration Initiative, which passed at 50.3 percent.
Blocher is one among many anti-globalist Europeans who have taken the stage in the past several years, a spotlight that is joined by the likes of Marie Le Pen of France, Geert Wilders of the Netherlands, the rise of the ‘Alternative for Germany’ party; Viktor Orban of Hungary, not to mention the Brexit vote itself. Essentially, the EU experiment is over because it was never wished for in the first place and Trump is a kind of transatlantic spiritual horseman to hasten in the apocalypse.
It has been a long time coming: just over a decade ago, the French voted down the European Constitution Treaty, which was supposed to replace existing EU treaties and institute key changes such as the appointment of an EU foreign minister. This was followed by an even stronger “No” in the Netherlands three days later. These “No” votes succeeded where the Danish 1992 “No” to the Maastricht Treaty and the Irish 2000 “No” to the Treaty of Nice had failed, forcing EU leaders to come up with a new reform treaty, the Lisbon Treaty.
Europe never learned from those lessons, but Trump did: the Brexit referendum of last July emphasized a key reality of twenty-first-century politics, that the divide is not so much Left versus Right but one of globalists versus localists.
On the one hand are the global financial authorities, the EU, the banks and big business and many pro free-trade economists; on the other a strange combination of radical leftists opposed to austerity and ‘neoliberalism’ (however defined), as well as nationalists and conservatives. The difference these days is that the former also go in for utopian ideals, whether it’s the euro or immigration, because they ignore the social implications of trendy group-think and think only in terms of economics not history.
Part of the problem is that Europhiles often confuse the EU with the original post-war European project, which was based on the concepts of peace, harmony, and social justice. In the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, the European project set out to build a united continent. On the eve of the euro launch in January 1999, Germany’s finance minister Oskar Lafontaine poetically spoke of “the vision of a united Europe, to be reached through the gradual convergence of living standards, the deepening of democracy, and the flowering of a truly European culture.”
Instead, Europe has been transported light years from this utopian vision. After several years of austerity, the Eurozone crisis has escalated into a social catastrophe. The cost has been borne out in terms of jobs, wages, economic growth, and blighted lives. Currently, there are almost 21 million unemployed people in the EU. For its part, the Maastricht criteria were intended to facilitate the convergence toward the euro and, beyond this, to ever closer union among members. In order to qualify for the euro currency, both Greece and Italy turned to the likes of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, and other banks. The banks advised them to mask debts using derivatives. The rest, as they say, is history.
The End of an Era?
As the London Spectator recently observed, Trump’s attitude to Europe is nothing short of revolutionary. With a few words in Trump Tower, he seems to have torn up decades of US State Department policy. “People want their own identity,” he says, “so if you ask me, others, I believe others will leave.” He believes, as has been mentioned, in nation-states, and he does not see the EU as representative of the continent. In fact, he says, it is “basically a vehicle for Germany.”
It’s hard to overstate the effect of these words on the EU. The whole project of the European Union was always nurtured with American backing: since the Marshall Plan, US policy has been to consolidate Europe’s strength. America used trade and NATO to make the continent a bulwark against the East. Often, this meant putting off or sacrificing America’s short-term economic gains in the interests of security and world peace.
Trump has no time for that. He believes that the world has changed, and he wants better deals for America now, and Europe — a real set of allies — is paying attention.