tags: imperialism, international relations, Brexit
Tom Engelhardt created and runs the Tomdispatch.com website, a project of The Nation Institute where he is a Fellow. He is the author of a highly praised history of American triumphalism in the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture, and of a novel, The Last Days of Publishing, as well as a collection of his Tomdispatch interviews, Mission Unaccomplished. Each spring he is a Teaching Fellow at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
By now, you might think that all of this is a lesson written in the clouds for anyone, including Donald Trump, to see. Not that he will. After all, though no one thinks of him this way, he really is our own American Brexiteer. In some inchoate and (if I can use such a word for such a man) groping fashion, he, too, wants us out; not, of course, from the European Union, though he’s no fan of either the EU or the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), but from the whole global system of alliances and trade arrangements that Washington has forged since 1945 to ensure the success of the “American Century” -- to cement, that is, its global position as the next Great Britain.
Not so long ago, when it came to Washington’s system of global power, the U.S. was the sun for orbiting allies in alliances like NATO, the Southeast Asian Treaty Organization, and the Organization of American States. Meanwhile, the U.S. military had scattered an unprecedented number of military garrisons across much of the planet. In the wake of the implosion of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States briefly seemed to be not just the next but potentially the last Great Britain. Its leaders came to believe that this country had been left in a position of unique dominance on Planet Earth at “the end of history” and perhaps until the end of time. In the years after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991, it came to be known as “the sole superpower” or, in the phrase of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, “the indispensable nation.” It briefly seemed to find itself in a position no country, not even the Roman or British empires, had ever been in.
Now, in his own half-baked, half-assed fashion, Donald Trump is promoting another kind of first: his unique version of “America First.” Two New York Times reporters, David Sanger and Maggie Haberman, evidently reminded him of that isolationist phrase from the pre-World War II era in an interview in March 2016 during his election run. They described the exchange this way: “He agreed with a suggestion [of ours] that his ideas might be summed up as ‘America First.’”
“Not isolationist, but I am America First,” he said. “I like the expression.” So much so that, from then on, he would use it endlessly in his presidential campaign.
Donald Trump has, of course, been something of a collector of, or perhaps sponge for, the useful past slogans of others (as well as the present ones of his right-wing followers in the Twittersphere). As any red baseball cap should remind us, the phrase that helped loft him to the presidency was, of course, “Make America Great Again,” or MAGA, a version of an old line from Ronald Reagan’s winning election campaign of 1980. He had the foresight to try to trademark it only days after Mitt Romney lost his bid for the presidency to Barack Obama in November 2012.