President Trump is delivering a powerful message to global elites like the World Economic Forum. America First is about unmasking the cynical con the most privileged have played on ordinary working folk.
The bien-pensant — all knowing, orthodox heads of government, CEOs, NGO leaders and celebrities — have profited greatly from the liberal international order the United States buttressed for generations.
The system of security, economic and environmental agreements have enabled globalization that makes J.P. Morgan and Apple richer, provides legitimacy for Oxfam and Greenpeace, and offers wider fame for media personalities.
For many ordinary working folks, the economic textbooks’ promise that free trade, multinationals hopscotching the globe and porous borders for immigrants would create a rising tide of prosperity for all and a multicultural Peaceable Kingdom has proven a nightmare.
That’s why Donald Trump was elected president, British Prime Minister Theresa May is negotiating a Brexit she did not want, German Chancellor Angela Merkel must navigate a minority government with the participation of immigration and Euro skeptics, and populist uprisings pressure establishment politicians elsewhere.
Fat but fearful in their power, profits and prestige, the elite hold their noses as Mr. Trump enjoins them to invest more in the United States and warns them America is only interested in effective security arrangements and trade deals that treat the ordinary folks equitably.
America First is not about America above all others but that politicians everywhere should look out for the security and economic interests of their constituents.
The bien-pensant have duped opinion leaders at universities, in the media and in national bureaucracies into accepting the idea that just signing new agreements and propping up existing ones is success enough.
They seem to think the hoi polloi in places like Reading, Pa., or Beziers, France, whose prosperity and cultural identities have been trampled by trade and immigration, should be happy that elected progressive leaders are engaging in diplomacy to fix their problems.
Too often, however, diplomacy offers ordinary folks little more than sinking poverty, the distain of media and politicians who brand them rubes and an ever present threat of violent crime and terrorism.
Diplomacy has failed to adequately raise the financial commitments of other Western nations to our common defense. Our wealthiest partners — Japan and Germany — lean on the sins of long dead villains to demand that our young men and women bear most of the risks, and America can no tolerate this selfish pacifism.
Diplomacy has failed to resolve our common security problems with Russia. Otherwise, it would not be in the Eastern Ukraine and Crimea, rearming to pose a terrible menace to the rest of Europe and propping up refugee driving tyrants in Syria and elsewhere.
Diplomacy has failed to dissipate the threat of a nuclearizing North Korea or rapidly arming China in the Pacific.
Diplomacy has failed to redress the economic damage or confront the anti-democracy challenge that Chinese mercantilism — and attendant violation of WTO norms and rules — imposes on the United States and much of the rest of the West.
In the middle of all this are the failed institutions of diplomacy — the U.N., WTO, Paris Climate Accord and the like.
China and others really won’t put on the pressure necessary to bring North Korea to heel, so the United States has dispatched an unprecedented three aircraft carriers and is prepared to take military action to end Pyongyang’s threat to blow up Seattle.
The WTO’s dispute settlement mechanisms are inadequate to the task of halting Chinese cheating on trade and intellectual property rules, so the United States is blocking appointments to its court that arbitrates the rules. And it is taking unilateral actions to defend American industries like Solar Panels targeted by China for extinction.
The Paris Climate Accord is a sham. It gives the world’s fastest growing polluter, China, a several decade free pass to keep dumping additional filth into the atmosphere, while the United States, without the help of a global cop, is cutting its CO2 emissions through a market-based solution.
Where Mr. Trump falls short is in not offering a well-conceived set of alternatives to reform the WTO, Paris Agreement and the like but he shouldn’t be criticized by intelligentsia for failing to continue America’s defense of the indefensible.
Mr. Trump is simply telling the bien pensant the emperor has no clothes.
• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.
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