There’s been a trend growing on the Left (both at home and abroad) for some time now which seeks to berate any notion of exceptionalism and pride in one’s country as backward thinking and the propagation of hate speech. This tendency really came to light when Donald Trump adopted the infuriating (to the Left) motto of, “Make America Great Again.” To be sure, the protestations were always couched with a bit of padding, insisting that America is already great, but there’s generally an unspoken inference that any insistence on American exceptionalism (in particular) is dangerous, jingoistic nonsense.
We see a parallel of this debate playing out in Great Britain right now as they wrestle with the Brexit question. Our own liberal visionaries of the Left see this rejection of the absorption of a nation which dates back for millennia, rather than centuries, into some new European hodgepodge as dangerous isolationism. That’s the view on display this week at the Washington Post as Catherine Rampell bemoans the rise of “Global Autarky” in both America and the UK as the failure of mankind to adapt to some brave new borderless world.
Many Brits want to withdraw, to show they’re separate and politically self-determined and not really into all this expensive pan-ethnic, pan-European unity rubbish. So withdraw they might. Recent polls show the “leave” and “stay” contingents about evenly split.
Financially self-defeating as it may seem, the British are hardly alone in their flirtation with economic, political and cultural separatism…
And of course here at home in the United States, all three of our remaining major-party presidential candidates — Donald Trump, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton — have embraced anti-trade talk.
Of the three, Trump has offered the most isolationist, nationalistic vision, themed “America First.” To Trump, trade and diplomacy are never Pareto-improving — that is, making everyone better off without making anyone worse off — but always zero-sum. He not only laughs off the dire consequences of a trade war, he also actively stokes xenophobia at home and advocates large-scale disengagement from our allies abroad.
Rampell goes on to extol the virtues of globalization, insinuating that all of the benefits of exposure to and trade with foreign cultures is an all or nothing proposition. Failing to understand that we don’t live in a strictly binary universe and that human interaction is better defined in shades of gray, she paints a lovely picture of this idealistic, kumbaya planet.
We live in an age of unprecedented globalization. First mass media and then social media exposed us to the ideas, products and languages of our most far-flung counterparts around the world. Advances in finance, technology and logistics have facilitated more trade, and trade in a richer variety of goods and services, than at any time in human history.
And yet — either despite these advances in globalization or perhaps because of them — countries, regions and peoples worldwide are suddenly, synchronously retreating from one another and turning inward. Around the world, citizens are ignoring the improvements in living standards that have resulted from centuries of exchanges of ideas, products and customs, and are instead clamoring for more seclusion.
The progressive movement, particularly in America, has been particularly adept at reappropriating the language to serve their own purposes. Let’s take a quick etymological journey into this latest moniker of autarky. What does it even mean? For a long time now it had a fairly concise definition.
1: self-sufficiency, independence; specifically : national economic self-sufficiency and independence
2: a policy of establishing a self-sufficient and independent national economy
Oh, that sounds just awful, doesn’t it? Striving for economic independence and charting your own course rather than being a slave to the fortunes of other nations and their poor decision making? Perish the thought. But as is so often the case with these Alinsky style arguments, Rampell offers only an all or nothing choice. You can either have the wide open flood gates of “free” trade, along with the job outsourcing and everything else that comes with it, or you can live entirely on what you produce for yourself. You can absorb and accept every element of the “culture” of other nations, or build a dome around the nation and pretend the rest of the world doesn’t exist.
This is nonsensical hyperbole in action, redefining autarky the same way the Left has already successfully warped the meaning of nationalism. Yes, that’s now a dirty word on the campaign trail. Of course, traditionally it had a rather benign meaning: “The strong belief that the interests of a particular nation-state are of primary importance. Also, the belief that a people who share a common language, history, and culture should constitute an independent nation, free of foreign domination.”
That just sounds sinful, doesn’t it?
Both the Brits and we Americans have a proud heritage and a tapestry of cultural traditions. We share a history of independence and the ability to take care of ourselves while accessing the benefits of selective trade with other countries. We can observe the cultures of foreign nations and, if we choose, adopt certain trends or practices when we find them acceptable while rejecting the rest. We don’t need to suddenly accept the “honor killing” of women who refuse to marry a suitor chosen by their parents because it’s part of that rich international fabric. And we don’t have to simply shrug our shoulders and reject the idea of putting the needs of our own people first and being competitive when it comes to jobs and trade. These are false choices being offered by liberals who seek to make it shameful to believe that your own nation is the greatest in the world, and working to make it so, whether you live in America, England or Botswana.
Globalization has brought some wonderful things to people around the world to be sure. But remember that the earliest stirrings of such traffic also brought Europe the bubonic plague. Mind your borders and tread carefully. And while you’re at it, clean up your flag for the Fourth of July. There’s nothing wrong with putting America first and believing we’re the greatest nation on Earth, so stop apologizing for it.