Speaking to the United Nations General Assembly last week, the U.S. president insisted: “The free world must embrace its national foundations. … The future does not belong to globalists. The future belongs to patriots.”
This is the same man who said it was “perfect” to ask the Ukrainian president to investigate an American political rival; who once called on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails; and who, according to the New York Times, pressured the Australian prime minister to help undermine the Mueller inquiry. Trump certainly doesn’t believe his own interests should be constrained by anything as prosaic as national borders — or the national interest.
Back in the early 2000s, during the high noon of the first wave of resistance to globalization, people like economist Amartya Sen used to point out that the resistance to globalization was itself globalized. The anarchists at the Battle of Seattle or the activists at the World Social Forum thought nothing of sourcing their arguments or their support from anywhere in the world.
Theirs was an effortlessly internationalist movement. The more thoughtful among their number accepted that they were globalists, just angered by the specific form that globalization had taken. They represented globalization’s triumph, even as they railed against it.
In the same way, Trump is a product of borderless capitalism. He has raised money from investors in a dozen countries across the world and sold his name to builders in half a dozen more. Interests and resources can’t be constrained by national boundaries; the builder Trump knows that, even if the politician Trump pretends he doesn’t.
For those who run that sort of global business, there’s nothing inherently immoral or unacceptable about asking help from a business associates in a foreign country to undermine a rival back home. That’s smart, in fact.
Politics, on the other hand, is a little more old-fashioned. In fact — if you’ll pardon the lapse into Trump-speak — one might even call it “patriotic.” It stops at the water’s edge, remember? People worry if you look outside your borders to deal with domestic problems.
What Trump has to offer to his foreign associates is the power of the presidency itself. Democrats in Congress are moving ahead with an impeachment inquiry because they think it’s still beyond the pale, even in a more globalized era, to hawk the power of office internationally for personal or political gain.
Perhaps Trump is right to imagine, as it appears through his behavior he does, that populist politicians around the world will recognize each other as allies against those pesky, unpatriotic liberals who oppose them all. At a joint rally this month, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi rephrased his own election slogan in a manner that was seen as a quasi-endorsement of Trump. The U.S. president himself was clearly willing to help Benjamin Netanyahu during Israeli elections in April.
But, if Trump is right that there is a global community of populists who should defend and support each other, then he is probably wrong that the future will not belong to globalists. Globalization triumphs by forcing itself into the assumptions and operations of even its most bitter opponents. Trump himself may be the most committed globalist of them all.