President Donald Trump gave his inaugural address this week. In it he painted a dystopian, apocalyptic landscape in America where factories were tombstones and people were wandering hungry and homeless. It was dark image of America and the world: a strange image given that American income has risen, unemployment has dropped, 20 million more Americans have health insurance, and the stock market has climbed to new heights. America has benefited from globalization and President Obama’s policies in unprecedented ways.
Many have commented on the endemic American racism that makes President Obama’s accomplishments seem less than they are. I will not belabor his point. Trump’s key phrase “an American Carnage,” which the media quickly picked up on was a summative statement of the way he and his friends and supporters see the state of the country. Carnage. Bleeding, bloody and broken. That large groups of Americans feel left out of the globalization process. And this is no doubt true. The election was a mandate based on this feeling of Americans feeling left out; a neoliberal consensus that accountability and economy are no longer valued. This was the wave of populist disaffection that Trump rode. But are Trump’s policies going to help them? That is a different story.
But there was another key phrase that caught my attention that said so much more about Trump’s policies and promises. He said that America would be “first,” a phrase he thoughtlessly picked up from the 1950s Yale school where it was used to defend America’s support of weaker nations. Here, in true Trumpian twist, he reused “America First”, to pivot to an idea that America would only turn to itself economically and militarily. That it would turn inwards, in a nationalist turn where “Buy American and Hire American” would be the new America creed. This is an anti global turn, an anti-trade turn, an anti-diplomacy turn. A dark turn. Where America’s hands that had always reached across the waters now we witnessed it closing into a fist. Make no mistake. This is a new muscular American foreign policy. A new Trump policy of nationalist strength and international don’t-careness. The open policies are aligning along a closing of America’s doors.
Our allies and friends should be very afraid of this new America.