Thus in this time of populist ferment, the defenders of the status quo are thrown on the defensive. Establishmentarians must explain why the U.S. should always subsidize and protect countries and peoples on the many far pavilions, from South Korea to Estonia to Syria. We have known for three decades now that we’re not defending, any more, against communist ideology; instead, it sometimes appears that we are merely fostering a disastrous worldwide technology transfer to China.
So if we step back, we can see the ahistoricality of what we’re doing. Even the advocates of the status quo system have to admit that in the context of traditional statecraft, it’s simply not normal that one country should do all this defending, and oftentimes pay for the privilege of doing it. Thus the pressing question: With just four percent of the world’s population and barely more than a fifth of the world’s GDP, can the U.S. really afford to defend, seemingly, everyone against everybody? Indeed, in a world of drones, cyber-attacks, and migration-based terrorism, it’s not even clear that we know how to defend ourselves, let alone the rest of the world.
To be sure, many will argue that even if it’s not normal, and increasingly unworkable, that we bear these burdens, it’s still desirable, as part of a quest to build a newer world order. Thus the political battle is joined: Trump the nationalist, plus his Bannonite allies around the world vs. the received—some would say, congealed—wisdom of the internationalists.