Shortly after the United Kingdom voted narrowly to leave the European Union, Donald Trump’s campaign and its allies seized on the moment to cheer the supposed demise of the “globalists.” Trump’s Kremlin-friendly campaign manager, Paul Manafort, explained on NBC with Chuck Todd that Brexit represented the realization that “the promises that globalism is the solution, the promise that government’s going to make your life better if you just give up your freedoms, the promises that we know better than you on how to make your lives better, have been rejected. That’s what Donald Trump has identified, that’s what Brexit identified, and that’s what’s going to be the basis for the election in 2016.”
Manafort is certainly correct that Brexit stood for national sovereignty above international bureaucracy, national democracy above global governance from above. But there is one problem: Brexit’s brand of anti-globalism isn’t Trump’s brand of anti-globalism. Conflating the two is both rhetorically dishonest and ideologically dangerous.
In TrumpWorld, “globalism” has been a buzzword bugaboo for months, ever since Trump dumped it in the middle of a foreign-policy speech. “We will no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism,” Trump thundered back in April. “The nation-state remains the true foundation for happiness and harmony.”
So far, this definition of anti-globalism lines up with Brexit’s: prizing local sovereignty over a faraway, unrepresentative authority. Actually, it’s pure founding ideology — in Federalist 9 and 10, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, respectively, argued in favor of devolving most control to local governance, based largely on the ideas of Montesquieu. Internationally, the idea would be that each civilization ought to be able to control its future, something that certainly holds true for both Britain and the United States.
If that were all Trump meant by “globalist” — that we should not delegate control over our republic to Brussels or the assemblage of moral idiots at the United Nations — his critique of globalism would be inarguable.
But it isn’t.
When Trump decries “globalism,” he goes beyond mere allegiance to the notion of American sovereignty: He means rage at international relations generally, including trade relations. Those who celebrate Brexit could still be “globalists” in Trump’s world if they support free-trade agreements.
In April, Trump continued to thus define “globalism”:
I am skeptical of international unions that tie us up and bring America down, and will never enter America into any agreement that reduces our ability to control our own affairs. NAFTA, as an example, has been a total disaster for the U.S. and has emptied our states of our manufacturing and our jobs.
But NAFTA isn’t an example of giving up control over our republic. It’s a free-trade agreement. This is the problem with Trump’s redefined “globalist” slur: It lumps together free-marketeers — small-government advocates who don’t wish to see international institutions dominate free-market exchanges between individuals and nations — with people who want global bureaucrats controlling internal and external national affairs. Robert Merry did just that in a recent column for The National Interest: “Globalists were too focused on global trade and commerce to notice the horrendous plight of America’s internal refugees from the industrial nation of old.”
No, actually. Those of us who champion free trade do so not out of an altruistic desire to enrich people abroad, but because free trade has made America the most powerful economic force in human history.
The history of free trade demonstrates that when unshackled from government bureaucracy, private parties trading with one another both see benefit.
The history of protectionism in the United States is long and inglorious. The so-called Tariff of Abominations, initiated under John Quincy Adams in 1828, helped drive distrust and conflict between the North, which wanted it, and the South, which didn’t. The McKinley Tariff of 1890 was so unpopular that it resulted in the Republicans’ being booted from control of Congress and the presidency. One of the worst political deals of all time — the passage of the 16th Amendment, allowing the federal government to collect an income tax — occurred only because Republicans were so addicted to protectionism that they agreed to accept the income tax in return for Democratic support for tariffs. The disastrous Smoot-Hawley tariff, which helped deepen and lengthen the Great Depression, was the last gasp of a failed ideology; the revival of protectionist ideology in Latin America has doomed the people of Venezuela, among others, to breaking each other’s heads in disputes over loaves of bread.
The history of free trade on the other hand demonstrates that, when unshackled from government bureaucracy, private parties trading with one another both see benefit. The American Revolution was fought largely in an attempt to break free of protectionist measures from the mother country. The early republic placed low tariffs on foreign goods to raise government revenue, but not out of a widespread desire to “protect” domestic industry. America’s economic growth during the Tariff of Abominations period came largely from territorial expansion to the West, not from locking out competitors from domestic markets. In the aftermath of World War II, free trade helped America outcompete the Soviet Union and raise the standard of living more dramatically both in the United States and across the world than ever before. America’s global power was built not on the back of protectionism, but on the back of free trade.
Yet Trump and company have the gall to suggest that Americans who support free trade are actually “globalists” in thrall to some Bilderberg-style conspiracy in favor of foreigners.
The truth is that those in favor of tariffs are the ones who oppose local rule — the ability of individuals to make their own decisions about buying and selling, about control over their own labor without a government intermediary. If truly nasty globalism includes rule by a distant elite, Trump’s economic policy fits that description far better than the free trade his opponents espouse.
In fact, Trump himself knows better. Here’s what he wrote on globalism back in 2013: “We will have to leave borders behind and go for global unity when it comes to financial stability. . . . The future of Europe, as well as the United States, depends on a cohesive global economy.” Presumably, Trump didn’t mean that the EU should continue to dominate the U.K. with bureaucracy — he meant economic interrelationships should continue to grow. That’s a lot different from his advocacy of tariffs today.
But in reality, Trump’s “globalism” cry isn’t policy-driven. It’s just another insult to toss at anyone who opposes Trump — even if the insult itself makes no sense.