Making Sense of the New American Right

Keeping track of the Jacksonians, Reformicons, Paleos, and Post-liberals.

I like to start my classes on conservative intellectual history by distinguishing between three groups. There is the Republican party, with its millions of adherents and spectrum of opinion from very conservative, somewhat conservative, moderate, and yes, liberal. There is the conservative movement, the constellation of single-issue nonprofits that sprung up in the 1970s

  • gun rights,
  • pro-life,
  • taxpayer,
  • right to work

— and continue to influence elected officials. Finally, there is the conservative intellectual movement: writers, scholars, and wonks whose journalistic and political work deals mainly with ideas and, if we’re lucky, their translation into public policy.

U.S.-China Trade Standoff May Be Initial Skirmish in Broader Economic War

The United States is increasingly wary of China’s emerging role in the global economy and the tactics it uses to get ahead, including state-sponsored hacking, acquisitions of high-tech companies in the United States and Europe, subsidies to crucial industries and discrimination against foreign companies.

The Trump administration has begun trying to limit China’s economic influence in the United States and abroad, warning about China’s ambitions in increasingly stark terms. Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, compared China’s ambitions to Russia and Iran in a speech in London last Wednesday, saying Beijing poses “a new kind of challenge; an authoritarian regime that’s integrated economically into the West in ways that the Soviet Union never was.”

China, whose ambition is to dominate industries of the future, is pushing back. A column on Saturday in the Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper stated, “The United States is again waving the club of tariffs after misjudging China’s strength, capacity and will, further escalating trade friction between our two countries.”

The piece was written under the pen name Zhong Sheng — the “voice of China” — a name used when the paper publishes comments on foreign affairs that are authoritative.

Restraining China’s ambitions and methods is a tricky task — and there is concern that the Trump administration’s effort is creating a new red scare, fueling discrimination against China and its citizens that could ultimately hurt the United States. As many as 30 Chinese professors have had their visas to the United States canceled in the past year, or been put on administrative review, according to Chinese academics and their American counterparts.

“We’ve got decades of painful negotiating with China ahead,” said David Lampton, a China scholar at Stanford University. Mr. Lampton said a trade deal, if reached, would do little to resolve the bigger conflict. “It’s just a skirmish in an ongoing battle.”

.. While a trade deal could calm some tensions and establish more good will between the two nations, it is unlikely to achieve many of the ambitious goals that the administration has set for itself. Mr. Trump’s advisers, in particular the United States trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, have been focused on what the administration calls China’s practices of “economic aggression.”

But the administration has struggled to address the immensity of the problems in the text of a trade deal. People close to the talks say that the negotiators appear powerless to force any changes that aren’t in China’s interest.

Mr. Liu, who is leading China’s team in the trade negotiations, hinted at that uphill battle in a video statement released by the official Xinhua news agency.

Instead, a trade deal between the two countries seems more likely to bring change around the margins — tens of billions of dollars of soybean purchases, some tariffs lifted and changes to the text of Chinese laws or regulations that the country might ultimately disregard, particularly once another administration occupies the White House.

This is a decades-long endeavor,” said Robert Daly, the director of the Wilson Center’s Kissinger Institute on China and the United States. “This can’t be waved away over cake at Mar-a-Lago.”

The notion that the United States has one last shot to change China’s behavior is held by an array of people on both sides of the political spectrum. But it is an aggressive notion of American power to upend a rival system that has delivered prosperity for its people and put China on course to be the world’s largest economy.

Many in China see the United States as a declining power bent on enforcing its will on a world that no longer cowers before its hegemonic might. The troubles in American democracy and the long economic slump after 2008 persuaded many in China that its instincts to chart its own course were correct. In the eyes of many Chinese, their country is simply reclaiming its historic status as a dominant regional power in Asia.

It has also projected power across Asia, Africa and elsewhere while the United States has, on many fronts, retreated from its post-World War II commitment to the global order. But it has done so with little application of military force, in sharp contrast to what many in China see as American militarism.

Many in China have sought to avoid a trade conflict, which could have a larger impact on their economy than the United States’. But they have long thought the United States would have a difficult time accepting a true peer in economic, technology and military power, so consider the management of conflict with the United States to be an inevitable result of their own rise.

While the Trump administration accused China of breaking a trade deal, China’s resistance to the emerging terms stemmed from its belief that the United States was asking too much and offering too little in return. Many of the changes the United States seeks would limit what Chinese officials regard as a tried-and-true approach of using tens of billions of dollars from state-owned banks and government investment funds to turn previously small industries like car production or solar panel manufacturing into the largest industries of their kind in the world.

And the Chinese view some of the Trump administration’s demands as infringing on their sovereignty and giving America too much power over their economy — including requiring the country to codify changes through legislation in the National People’s Congress. To the increasingly nationalistic public in China, the American requests are reminiscent of 19th century history of unequal treaties forced on the country by foreign powers.

Mr. Trump on Saturday suggested China was simply delaying a deal in the hopes that a Democrat would win election in 2020 and continued his pugilistic approach, saying “the deal will become far worse for them if it has to be negotiated in my second term. Would be wise for them to act now, but love collecting BIG TARIFFS!”

In the United States, China’s unwillingness to bow to America’s demands is uniting lawmakers like the Democratic Senate leader, Chuck Schumer of New York, and Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida.

That is a significant shift from the prevailing view in the United States since the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 that close economic engagement with China would produce an increasingly democratic country that would be closely tied to an international economic order founded mainly on Western liberal ideals.

That has not happened.

China has indeed grown in prosperity, leaping into the ranks of what the World Bank defines as upper-middle income countries. Its economy is now bigger than any other country except the United States. Its manufacturing sector is now bigger than those of the United States, Germany and South Korea combined.

But in the last five years, China has veered toward increasingly repressive authoritarianism at home and a rapid military buildup. The State Department estimates that Beijing has put 800,000 to two million Muslims in hastily built internment camps ringed with barbed wire in northwestern China. The Chinese government has built an archipelago of air bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea in between Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. And China now has the world’s largest navy and has conducted

China has indeed grown in prosperity, leaping into the ranks of what the World Bank defines as upper-middle income countries. Its economy is now bigger than any other country except the United States. Its manufacturing sector is now bigger than those of the United States, Germany and South Korea combined.

But in the last five years, China has veered toward increasingly repressive authoritarianism at home and a rapid military buildup. The State Department estimates that Beijing has put 800,000 to two million Muslims in hastily built internment camps ringed with barbed wire in northwestern China. The Chinese government has built an archipelago of air bases on artificial islands in the South China Sea in between Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. And China now has the world’s largest navy and has conducted military exercises as far away as East Africa and the Baltic Sea.

On the economic front, the competition is even fiercer. Trump administration officials warn that China is trying to dominate the global 5G infrastructure that will be the basis for future mobile communications and is competing to set other technological standards that will determine which global companies win.

China is extending low-cost loans and building infrastructure around the globe through its One Belt, One Road program, which critics warn is making poorer countries beholden to China. It is out-investing the United States in some high-tech industries, and is gaining dominance in certain segments, like mobile payment, new energy vehicles and areas of artificial intelligence.

While American companies have long hankered for access to China’s growing market, their position has begun to shift as they see China’s practices and treatment of foreign companies. A survey released by the American Chamber of Commerce in China in February showed that the majority of its members favored retaining tariffs on Chinese goods while trade negotiations continued.

China’s own experts say that the Beijing leadership has been caught off guard by the pace of change in American perceptions of Sino-American relations.

“Even if there is some kind of agreement between Xi and Trump, in the long run the strategic bilateral relationship is already in trouble,” said Zhang Jian, a professor in the School of Government at Peking University. “There is no coming back, even if there is a deal.”

George H.W. Bush, the anti-Trump

Bush was so self-effacing that he hated to use the personal pronoun — “don’t be talking about yourself,” his mother instructed him. Trump, by contrast, hardly talks about anything other than himself.

.. The marriage of convenience between Bush and the right broke apart in 1990. The president was determined to reduce the growing deficits that he had inherited from Ronald Reagan — and that had grown larger still because of the need to bail out failing savings and loan associations. With the nation headed to war in Kuwait, he wanted to put America’s finances in order. The problem was that in 1988 he had foolishly promised, “Read my lips: No new taxes.” Bush knew he would pay a price for breaking his pledge, but he was determined to do so for the good of the country.

.. The No. 2 Republican in the House, Newt Gingrich of Georgia, initially appeared supportive of a spending deal that would have limited tax increases to levies on gasoline, alcohol and other products, avoiding income tax hikes. But when it came time to announce the agreement in the Rose Garden, Gingrich stalked out.

.. Bush went back to the table, agreeing to a small increase in the top income tax rate, from 28 percent to 31 percent. (It had been 50 percent as recently as 1986.) House Republicans still rejected the deal, but this time there were enough Democratic votes to pass the compromise.

.. From a fiscal conservative’s perspective, the 1990 deal was a raging success. As Bruce Bartlett notes, “The final deal cut spending by $324 billion over five years and raised revenues by $159 billion.” It also put into place stringent rules mandating that any future tax cuts or spending increases would have to be offset by spending cuts or revenue increases. Within eight years, a $376 billion deficit had become a $113 billion surplus. Yet conservatives never forgave Bush for his apostasy.

.. Gingrich’s opposition to the budget deal — and his general disdain for bipartisan compromise — helped him in 1994 to become the first Republican speaker of the House in 40 years.

.. Bush’s tax hike was also part of the rationale for Patrick J. Buchanan’s 1992 primary challenge, which proved more damaging than anyone had expected. The syndicated columnist won enough votes in New Hampshire (37.5 percent) to embarrass the incumbent and earn a prime-time slot at the Republican convention, where he gave his fiery “culture war” speech that repulsed moderates and independents.

.. As Jeff Greenfield has noted, many of the themes Buchanan hit in 1992 were similar to Trump’s in 2016:

  • He denounced threats to U.S. sovereignty,
  • railed against globalization and multiculturalism, and
  • called for “a new patriotism, where Americans begin to put the needs of Americans first.”

.. George F. Will once remarked, after Reagan’s ascendancy, that Barry Goldwater won in 1964; “it just took 16 years to count the votes.” Likewise, Buchanan won in 1992; it just took 24 years to count the votes.

.. Jon Meacham quotes from Bush’s diary in 1988 after meeting a supporter of televangelist Pat Robertson who refused to shake his hand: “They’re scary. They’re there for spooky, extraordinary right-winged reasons. They don’t care about Party. They don’t care about anything. . . . They could be Nazis, they could be Communists, they could be whatever. . . . They will destroy this party if they’re permitted to take over.”

.. Well, now they have taken over, and it is impossible to imagine the Republican Party again nominating a man who put loyalty to country above loyalty to right-wing dogma.

The Ghost of Steve Bannon

it is important to recall the three pillars of the Bannonite “America First” philosophy.

Earlier this year at the Conservative Political Action Conference, Bannon outlined them: national security and sovereignty; economic nationalism; and deconstruction of the administrative state.

.. As The Washington Post reported at the end of August, Trump continued to defy the wishes of his Chief of Staff John F. Kelly, including by reaching out to Bannon: “The president continues to call business friends and outside advisers, including former chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon, from his personal phone when Kelly is not around, said people with knowledge of the calls.”

On Sept. 12, The Wall Street Journal reported that Bannon told a private group in Hong Kong that he “speaks with President Donald Trump every two to three days.”

We Are Not the World

From Brexit to Trump to the rise of nationalist parties across Europe, the old division between left and right is giving way to a battle between self-styled patriots and confounded globalists

 Supporters of these disparate movements are protesting not just globalization—the process whereby goods, capital and people move ever more freely across borders—but globalism, the mind-set that globalization is natural and good, that global governance should expand as national sovereignty contracts.

The new nationalist surge has startled establishment parties in part because they don’t see globalism as an ideology. How could it be, when it is shared across the traditional left-right spectrum by the likes of Hillary Clinton, Tony Blair, George W. Bush and David Cameron ?

.. In the 1930s, nationalists were also expansionists who coveted other countries’ territory. Today, Mr. Trump and his ideological allies mostly want to reassert control over their own countries. Their targets are such global structures as the EU, the World Trade Organization, NATO, the U.N. and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

.. Little unites the new nationalists other than their shared antipathy toward globalism. Mr. Trump’s economic program is as far to the right as Ms. Le Pen’s is to the left. Nor do they have credible plans for replacing the institutions of globalization that they want to tear dow

.. In 1957, six European countries signed the Treaty of Rome, creating what would become the EU, hoping that economic and political integration would make war unthinkable.

.. Between 1987 and 2008, total U.S. wages adjusted for inflation rose by 53%, while the profits that U.S. companies earned abroad soared by 347%.

.. President Bill Clinton signed Nafta in 1993 in part to embed a pro-American government in Mexico

.. The late political scientist Samuel Huntington applied the caustic label “Davos man” to those who see “national boundaries as obstacles that thankfully are vanishing.” For globalists, this was a badge of honor, symbolizing not just an outlook but a lifestyle of first-class departure lounges, smartphones and stock options.

.. In 2000, Mr. Clinton blessed China’s entry into the WTO. Echoing Truman, he predicted China’s membership was “likely to have a profound impact on human rights and political liberty.”

It didn’t. China adhered to the letter of its WTO obligations while systematically violating their spirit with discrimination against foreign investors and products and an artificially cheap currency.

.. Economists warned that Italy, Spain and Greece couldn’t compete with Germany without the safety valve of letting national currencies periodically devalue to offset their faster-rising costs. Sure enough, their trade deficits ballooned, but low-cost euro loans at first made them easy to finance. The loans proved unsustainable, and the resulting crisis has still not run its course.

.. Chinese and German trade surpluses could wreak havoc thanks to expanding cross-border finance. To globalists, its growth was as inexorable as that of trade. In early 2008, President George W. Bush’s treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, put out a report arguing that globalization had made much of U.S. financial regulation obsolete. The priority was to maintain “American preeminence in the global capital markets.

.. Globalists were blind to the nationalist backlash in part because their world—entrepreneurial, university-educated, ethnically diverse, urban and coastal—has thrived as whiter, less-educated hinterlands have stagnated.

.. Many globalists now assume that the discontent is largely driven by stagnant wages and inequality. If people are upset about immigration, they reason, it is largely because they fear competition with low-wage workers.

In fact, much of the backlash against immigration (and globalism) is not economic but cultural

.. in the 1980s, economic issues such as taxes and welfare became less important than noneconomic issues such as immigration, terrorism, abortion and gay rights.

..  voters were bothered less by competition from immigrants than by their perceived effect on the country’s linguistic, religious and cultural norms.

.. Europeans’ opposition to immigration was driven less by pocketbook concerns than by worries about how changes to “the composition of the local population” would affect “their neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.”

.. Yet the new nationalism often thrives on xenophobia. Mr. Trump has been criticizing free trade since the 1980s, but his candidacy took off when he started attacking Mexican immigrants and Muslims. American Jewish groups heard unsettling echoes of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories when Mr. Trump accused Mrs. Clinton of meeting “in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.”

.. In short, there is ample reason for skepticism about whether the new nationalists can prove themselves a genuinely secular, democratic alternative to globalism.

.. That globalization’s winners can compensate its losers makes impeccable economic logic, but it rings hollow among those too old to retrain or move.

.. globalists should not equate concern for cultural norms and national borders with xenophobia. Large majorities of Americans, for example, welcome immigrants so long as they

  • adopt American values,
  • learn English,
  • bring useful skills and
  • wait their turn.

 

Could Trump Really Be Draining the Swamp?

When Rex Tillerson was announced as secretary of state, there was a general feeling of excitement and relief in the department. After eight years of high-profile, jet-setting secretaries, the building was genuinely looking forward to having someone experienced in corporate management. Like all large, sprawling organizations, the State Department’s structure is in perpetual need of an organizational rethink. That was what was hoped for, but that is not what is happening. Tillerson is not reorganizing, he’s downsizing.

.. While the lack of senior political appointees has gotten a lot of attention, less attention has been paid to the hollowing out of the career workforce, who actually run the department day to day. Tillerson has canceled the incoming class of foreign service officers. This as if the Navy told all of its incoming Naval Academy officers they weren’t needed. Senior officers have been unceremoniously pushed out. Many saw the writing on the wall and just retired, and many others are now awaiting buyout offers. He has dismissed State’s equivalent of an officer reserve—retired FSOs, who are often called upon to fill State’s many short-term staffing gaps, have been sent home despite no one to replace them. Office managers are now told three people must depart before they can make one hire.

.. President Donald Trump declared a new age of “energy dominance” by the U.S. on Thursday as he outlined plans to roll back Obama era restrictions and regulations meant to protect the environment.

.. “We don’t want to let other countries take away our sovereignty and tell us what to do and how to do it,” Mr. Trump said.

Qatar Again Pushes Back on Demands From Arab States

Foreign minister says country doesn’t fear any military retaliation for refusing to meet deadline

Qatar said Saturday it doesn’t fear any military retaliation for refusing to meet a Monday deadline to comply with a list of demands from four Arab states that have imposed a de facto blockade on the Gulf nation.
.. He said any country is free to raise grievances with Qatar, provided they have proof, but said any such conflicts should be worked out through negotiation, not by imposing ultimatums.“We believe that the world is governed by international laws, that don’t allow big countries to bully small countries,” he told a news conference. “No one has the right to issue to a sovereign country an ultimatum.”