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Union and advance U.S. interests. When
The Jacksonian the Soviet Union fell, Hamiltonians
TRUMP TIME

responded by doubling down on the


Revolt creation of a global liberal order, under-
stood primarily in economic terms.
American Populism and the thatWilsonians, meanwhile, also believed
the creation of a global liberal order
Liberal Order was a vital U.S. interest, but they con-
ceived of it in terms of values rather than
Walter Russell Mead economics. Seeing corrupt and authori-
tarian regimes abroad as a leading cause

F
or the first time in 70 years, the of conflict and violence, Wilsonians
American people have elected a sought peace through the promotion of
president who disparages the poli- human rights, democratic governance,
cies, ideas, and institutions at the heart and the rule of law. In the later stages
of postwar U.S. foreign policy. No one of the Cold War, one branch of this
knows how the foreign policy of the camp, liberal institutionalists, focused on
Trump administration will take shape, the promotion of international institu-
or how the new presidents priorities tions and ever-closer global integration,
and preferences will shift as he encounters while another branch, neoconservatives,
the torrent of events and crises ahead. believed that a liberal agenda could best
But not since Franklin Roosevelts be advanced through Washingtons unilat-
administration has U.S. foreign policy eral efforts (or in voluntary conjunction
witnessed debates this fundamental. with like-minded partners).
Since World War II, U.S. grand The disputes between and among
strategy has been shaped by two major these factions were intense and conse-
schools of thought, both focused on quential, but they took place within a
achieving a stable international system common commitment to a common
with the United States at the center. project of global order. As that project
Hamiltonians believed that it was in the came under increasing strain in recent
American interest for the United States decades, however, the unquestioned grip
to replace the United Kingdom as the of the globalists on U.S. foreign policy
gyroscope of world order, in the words thinking began to loosen. More nation-
of President Woodrow Wilsons adviser alist, less globally minded voices began
Edward House during World War I, to be heard, and a public increasingly
putting the financial and security archi- disenchanted with what it saw as the
tecture in place for a reviving global costly failures the global order-building
economy after World War IIsomething project began to challenge what the
that would both contain the Soviet foreign policy establishment was preach-
ing. The Jeffersonian and Jacksonian
WALTER RUSSELL MEAD is James Clarke schools of thought, prominent before
Chace Professor of Foreign Affairs and World War II but out of favor during
Humanities at Bard College and a Distinguished
Scholar at the Hudson Institute. Follow him on the heyday of the liberal order, have
Twitter @wrmead. come back with a vengeance.

2 f o r e i g n a f fa i r s
The Jacksonian Revolt

My country, tis of me: at a Trump rally in Louisville, Kentucky, March 2016


Jeffersonians, including todays IDENTITY POLITICS BITE BACK
so-called realists, argue that reducing The distinctively American populism
the United States global profile would Trump espouses is rooted in the
reduce the costs and risks of foreign thought and culture of the countrys
policy. They seek to define U.S. interests first populist president, Andrew Jack-
narrowly and advance them in the safest son. For Jacksonianswho formed the
and most economical ways. Libertarians core of Trumps passionately supportive
take this proposition to its limits and basethe United States is not a politi-
find allies among many on the left who cal entity created and defined by a set
oppose interventionism, want to cut of intellectual propositions rooted in
military spending, and favor redeploying the Enlightenment and oriented toward
the governments efforts and resources the fulfillment of a universal mission.
at home. Both Senator Rand Paul of Rather, it is the nation-state of the
Kentucky and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas American people, and its chief business
seemed to think that they could surf the lies at home. Jacksonians see American
rising tide of Jeffersonian thinking during exceptionalism not as a function of the
CH RIS BE RGIN / REUTE RS

the Republican presidential primary. universal appeal of American ideas, or


But Donald Trump sensed something even as a function of a unique American
that his political rivals failed to grasp: vocation to transform the world, but
that the truly surging force in American rather as rooted in the countrys singular
politics wasnt Jeffersonian minimalism. commitment to the equality and dignity
It was Jacksonian populist nationalism. of individual American citizens. The

March/April 2017 3
Walter Russell Mead

role of the U.S. government, Jacksonians from different backgrounds. Jacksonians


believe, is to fulfill the countrys destiny worry about the U.S. government being
by looking after the physical security taken over by malevolent forces bent on
and economic well-being of the Ameri- transforming the United States essential
can people in their national homeand character. They are not obsessed with
to do that while interfering as little as corruption, seeing it as an ineradicable
possible with the individual freedom part of politics. But they care deeply
that makes the country unique. about what they see as perversionwhen
Jacksonian populism is only intermit- politicians try to use the government to
tently concerned with foreign policy, and oppress the people rather than protect
indeed it is only intermittently engaged them. And that is what many Jacksonians
with politics more generally. It took a came to feel was happening in recent years,
particular combination of forces and with powerful forces in the American
trends to mobilize it this election cycle, elite, including the political establish-
and most of those were domestically ments of both major parties, in cahoots
focused. In seeking to explain the Jackso- against them.
nian surge, commentators have looked Many Jacksonians came to believe
to factors such as wage stagnation, the that the American establishment was no
loss of good jobs for unskilled workers, longer reliably patriotic, with patriotism
the hollowing out of civic life, a rise in defined as an instinctive loyalty to the
drug useconditions many associate well-being and values of Jacksonian
with life in blighted inner cities that America. And they were not wholly
have spread across much of the country. wrong, by their lights. Many Americans
But this is a partial and incomplete view. with cosmopolitan sympathies see their
Identity and culture have historically main ethical imperative as working for
played a major role in American politics, the betterment of humanity in general.
and 2016 was no exception. Jacksonian Jacksonians locate their moral commu-
America felt itself to be under siege, nity closer to home, in fellow citizens
with its values under attack and its future who share a common national bond. If
under threat. Trumpflawed as many the cosmopolitans see Jacksonians as
Jacksonians themselves believed him to backward and chauvinistic, Jacksonians
beseemed the only candidate willing return the favor by seeing the cosmopoli-
to help fight for its survival. tan elite as near treasonouspeople who
For Jacksonian America, certain think it is morally questionable to put
events galvanize intense interest and their own country, and its citizens, first.
political engagement, however brief. Jacksonian distrust of elite patriotism
One of these is war; when an enemy has been increased by the countrys
attacks, Jacksonians spring to the selective embrace of identity politics
countrys defense. The most powerful in recent decades. The contemporary
driver of Jacksonian political engage- American scene is filled with civic,
ment in domestic politics, similarly, is political, and academic movements
the perception that Jacksonians are celebrating various ethnic, racial, gender,
being attacked by internal enemies, and religious identities. Elites have
such as an elite cabal or immigrants gradually welcomed demands for cultural

4 f o r e i g n a f fa i r s
The Jacksonian Revolt

recognition by African Americans, so-called alt-right is at least partly


Hispanics, women, the lgbtq community, rooted in this dynamic.
Native Americans, Muslim Americans. The emergence of the Black Lives
Yet the situation is more complex for most Matter movement and the scattered,
Jacksonians, who dont see themselves as sometimes violent expressions of anti-
fitting neatly into any of those categories. police sentiment displayed in recent
Whites who organize around their years compounded the Jacksonians
specific European ethnic roots can do so sense of cultural alienation, and again,
with little pushback; Italian Americans not simply because of race. Jacksonians
and Irish Americans, for example, have instinctively support the police, just as
long and storied traditions in the parade they instinctively support the military.
of American identity groups. But increas- Those on the frontlines protecting society
ingly, those older ethnic identities have sometimes make mistakes, in this view,
faded, and there are taboos against claim- but mistakes are inevitable in the heat
ing a generic European American or of combat, or in the face of crime. It is
white identity. Many white Americans unfair and even immoral, many Jackso-
thus find themselves in a society that nians believe, to ask soldiers or police
talks constantly about the importance officers to put their lives on the line and
of identity, that values ethnic authentic- face great risks and stress, only to have
ity, that offers economic benefits and their choices second-guessed by armchair
social advantages based on identity critics. Protests that many Americans saw
for everybody but them. For Americans as a quest for justice, therefore, often
of mixed European background or for struck Jacksonians as attacks on law
the millions who think of themselves enforcement and public order.
simply as American, there are few Gun control and immigration were
acceptable ways to celebrate or even two other issues that crystallized the
connect with ones heritage. perception among many voters that the
There are many reasons for this, political establishments of both parties
rooted in a complex process of intellec- had grown hostile to core national values.
tual reflection over U.S. history, but the Non-Jacksonians often find it difficult
reasons dont necessarily make intuitive to grasp the depth of the feelings these
sense to unemployed former factory issues stir up and how proposals for gun
workers and their families. The growing control and immigration reform rein-
resistance among many white voters to force suspicions about elite control and
what they call political correctness and cosmopolitanism.
a growing willingness to articulate their The right to bear arms plays a unique
own sense of group identity can some- and hallowed role in Jacksonian political
times reflect racism, but they need not culture, and many Jacksonians consider
always do so. People constantly told that the Second Amendment to be the most
they are racist for thinking in positive important in the Constitution. These
terms about what they see as their iden- Americans see the right of revolution,
tity, however, may decide that racist is enshrined in the Declaration of Indepen-
what they are, and that they might as dence, as the last resort of a free people
well make the best of it. The rise of the to defend themselves against tyranny

March/April 2017 5
Walter Russell Mead

and see that right as unenforceable In short, in November, many Ameri-


without the possibility of bearing arms. cans voted their lack of confidencenot
They regard a familys right to protect in a particular party but in the govern-
itself without reliance on the state, mean- ing classes more generally and their
while, as not just a hypothetical ideal associated global cosmopolitan ideology.
but a potential practical necessityand Many Trump voters were less concerned
something that elites dont care about with pushing a specific program than
or even actively oppose. (Jacksonians with stopping what appeared to be the
have become increasingly concerned inexorable movement of their country
that Democrats and centrist Republi- toward catastrophe.
cans will try to disarm them, which is
one reason why mass shootings and THE ROAD AHEAD
subsequent calls for gun control spur What all of this means for U.S. foreign
spikes in gun sales, even as crime more policy remains to be seen. Many previ-
generally has fallen.) ous presidents have had to revise their
As for immigration, here, too, most ideas substantially after reaching the
non-Jacksonians misread the source Oval Office; Trump may be no excep-
and nature of Jacksonian concern. There tion. Nor is it clear just what the results
has been much discussion about the would be of trying to put his unorthodox
impact of immigration on the wages policies into practice. (Jacksonians can
of low-skilled workers and some talk become disappointed with failure and
about xenophobia and Islamophobia. turn away from even former heroes they
But Jacksonians in 2016 saw immigra- once embraced; this happened to President
tion as part of a deliberate and con- George W. Bush, and it could happen
scious attempt to marginalize them in to Trump, too.)
their own country. Hopeful talk among At the moment, Jacksonians are
Democrats about an emerging Demo- skeptical about the United States policy
cratic majority based on a secular of global engagement and liberal order
decline in the percentage of the voting buildingbut more from a lack of trust
population that is white was heard in in the people shaping foreign policy than
Jacksonian America as support for a from a desire for a specific alternative
deliberate transformation of American vision. They oppose recent trade agree-
demographics. When Jacksonians hear ments not because they understand the
elites strong support for high levels of details and consequences of those ex-
immigration and their seeming lack of tremely complex agreements terms but
concern about illegal immigration, they because they have come to believe that
do not immediately think of their pocket- the negotiators of those agreements did
books. They see an elite out to banish not necessarily have the United States
them from powerpolitically, cultur- interests at heart. Most Jacksonians are
ally, demographically. The recent spate not foreign policy experts and do not ever
of dramatic random terrorist attacks, expect to become experts. For them,
finally, fused the immigration and leadership is necessarily a matter of
personal security issues into a single trust. If they believe in a leader or a
toxic whole. political movement, they are prepared

6 f o r e i g n a f fa i r s
The Jacksonian Revolt

to accept policies that seem counter social peace, and that the next stage of
intuitive and difficult. capitalist development will challenge the
They no longer have such trust in very foundations of both the global liberal
the American establishment, and unless order and many of its national pillars.
and until it can be restored, they will In this new world disorder, the
keep Washington on a short leash. To power of identity politics can no longer
paraphrase what the neoconservative be denied. Western elites believed that
intellectual Irving Kristol wrote about in the twenty-first century, cosmopoli-
Senator Joseph McCarthy in 1952, there tanism and globalism would triumph
is one thing that Jacksonians know about over atavism and tribal loyalties. They
Trumpthat he is unequivocally on failed to understand the deep roots of
their side. About their countrys elites, identity politics in the human psyche
they feel they know no such thing. And and the necessity for those roots to find
their concerns are not all illegitimate, political expression in both foreign and
for the United States global order- domestic policy arenas. And they failed
building project is hardly flourishing. to understand that the very forces of
Over the past quarter century, economic and social development that
Western policymakers became infatuated cosmopolitanism and globalization
with some dangerously oversimplified fostered would generate turbulence and
ideas. They believed capitalism had been eventually resistance, as Gemeinschaft
tamed and would no longer generate (community) fought back against the
economic, social, or political upheavals. onrushing Gesellschaft (market society),
They felt that illiberal ideologies and in the classic terms sociologists favored
political emotions had been left in the a century ago.
historical dustbin and were believed only The challenge for international
by bitter loserspeople who cling politics in the days ahead is therefore
to guns or religion or antipathy toward less to complete the task of liberal world
people who arent like them . . . as a way order building along conventional lines
to explain their frustrations, as Barack than to find a way to stop the liberal
Obama famously put it in 2008. Time orders erosion and reground the global
and the normal processes of history system on a more sustainable basis.
would solve the problem; constructing International order needs to rest not
a liberal world order was simply a just on elite consensus and balances of
matter of working out the details. power and policy but also on the free
Given such views, many recent choices of national communities
developmentsfrom the 9/11 attacks communities that need to feel protected
and the war on terrorism to the finan- from the outside world as much as they
cial crisis to the recent surge of angry want to benefit from engaging with it.
nationalist populism on both sides of
the Atlanticcame as a rude surprise.
It is increasingly clear that globalization
and automation have helped break up
the socioeconomic model that under-
girded postwar prosperity and domestic

March/April 2017 7