‘America first’ is not a policy or a motto. It’s an implicit accusation of disloyalty.
By Bret Stephens. WSJ. Nov. 21, 2016
“I’m an economic nationalist. I am an America first guy. And I have admired nationalist movements throughout the world, have said repeatedly strong nations make great neighbors. I’ve also said repeatedly that the ethno-nationalist movement, prominent in Europe, will change over time. I’ve never been a supporter of ethno-nationalism.”
So said Stephen K. Bannon,Donald Trump’s chief strategist, in a wide-ranging interview with my colleague Kimberley Strassel published in these pages on Saturday. Later in the interview Mr. Bannon inveighed against “the policies of globalism,” which, he said, had “severely hurt” the interests of America’s working and middle classes of every race.
Over the weekend, several friends told me they found the interview reassuring about Mr. Bannon. I found it chilling.
Start with economic nationalism, a shopworn idea commonly associated with Latin American governments such as Juan Perón’s Argentina. In its milder form, economic nationalism means state subsidies for national-champion companies, giant infrastructure projects, targeted tariff protections for politically favored industries, “Buy American” provisions in government contracting, federal interventions against foreign takeovers of “sensitive” companies….
In France, economic nationalism has meant bailouts for failing industrial giants like Alstom. In Japan, it has meant 800% tariffs on imported rice, decades of blowout spending on airports, roads and bridges, and chronic hostility to immigration. Russia passed more protectionist measures in 2013 than any other country, according to the Moscow Times.
What do these and other countries that practice variants of economic nationalism have in common? France, where the state accounts for 57% of the economy, hasn’t seen annual GDP growth top 3% since the turn of the millennium. Japan, which has the world’s oldest population along with the highest debt-to-GDP ratio, experienced no fewer than five recessions between 2008 and 2015. Russia’s GDP contracted by 40% between 2013 and 2015. Its economy is now half the size of Great Britain’s.
Economic nationalism, in other words, means economic ruin—along with all the political favoritism, crony capitalism and inefficiency that Americans usually associate with Solyndra, the Synfuels Corp., or the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Mr. Bannon wants to double down on this winning formula.
Mr. Bannon also says he’s “America first,” which—see if you can spot the difference—either is or isn’t “America First.” Either way, the animating impulse behind “America first” is that there are some Americans who put their country second, or last, presumably behind their ethnic loyalties, ideological affinities or economic interests. America first isn’t a policy program or a political motto so much as it is an accusation of disloyalty. What real American, after all, wouldn’t put “America first” in his political priorities?
Mr. Bannon’s answer, along with that of the alt-right movement he has proudly championed through his Breitbart website, is “the globalists.” ….
As my colleague Bari Weiss pointed out in a recent article in Tablet, the foremost figure of today’s alt-right, Richard Spencer, dreams of “a new society, an ethno-state that would be a gathering point for all Europeans. It would be a new society based on very different ideals than, say, the Declaration of Independence.” …