Donald Trump is a worldly fellow. He travels the globe on his private jet. His fortune depends in large part on the global economy. He has business interests in nearly two-dozen countries on four continents. Just as wealthy Americans often slight the role the domestic infrastructure has played in the making of their fortunes, Trump routinely disregards how much his depends on the infrastructure of the global economy.
Trump’s cabinet nominees are a similarly worldly lot, being either generals or multi-millionaires, or simply straight-out billionaires. With an estimated net wealth of more than $13 billion, Trump’s cabinet could be its own small island nation. Make that a very aggressive island nation with the military men in his cabinet – former generals Mike Flynn (National Security Adviser), James Mattis (Defense Secretary), and John Kelly (Head of Homeland Security), as well as former Navy Seal Ryan Zinke (Interior Secretary) – have fought in nearly as many countries as Trump has done business.
As worldly as they might be, Trump’s picks don’t look much like the world. Still, the media has bent over backward to find as much diversity as it could in this panorama of homogeneity but given this taxonomy of Trumpism, it continues to miss the obvious. The Trump administration is, in fact, united around one key mission: it’s about to declare war on the world.
The Trump team’s approach, a globalism of the 1%, benefits themselves even as it reinforces American exceptionalism. Their world view is a galaxy distant from the sort of democratic internationalism that values diplomacy, human rights and multilateral cooperation to address planetary problems like climate change and economic inequality. Such a foreign policy of mutual engagement is, in fact, exactly what’s under immediate threat. Trump administration wants to replace a collection of liberal internationalists with something worse: a confederacy of oligarchs.
For such an undertaking that so radically privileges the few over the many, the incumbent administration needs a compelling rationale that goes beyond assertions that the status quo is broken, international institutions are inefficient, and the United States is the indispensable power on the planet. So, brace yourself for a coming clash of civilizations!
In the summer of 2010, anti-Islamic sentiment was cresting in the United States; there were protests against a proposed Islamic center in New York City, arson attacks against mosques, and a fundamentalist preacher threatening to burn the Quran. These Islamophobes were as misguided about Islam as the terrorists they loathed. Both sides transformed a religion practiced by 1.6 billion people, the overwhelming majority of whom despise terrorism, into an enemy of Western civilization. Just as al-Qaeda found adherents in America, the Islamophobes, too, were at that time on the fringes of society. The Islamophobia industry, though was well-funded, was not well-connected in Washington policy circles.
What makes the current moment different, however, is that the previously well-funded margins have become the well-connected mainstream. The officials of the Trump administration are now proclaiming as fact what only conspiracy theorists babbled about seven years ago. The dangerous twaddle begins with Donald Trump himself who, during the campaign, promised to keep any new Muslim immigrants from American shores and to close down mosques in the US.
Trump also pledged to work with “all moderate Muslim reformers” in the Middle East. That category, however, mainly includes those willing to kill large numbers of people, and authoritarian democrats like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and coup leaders like Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt. Why should the United States get its hands dirty? Trump, ever the businessman, appreciates the value of subcontractors.
President Trump’s choice for National Security Adviser, Michael Flynn, a more notoriously Islamophobe, has compared “Islamism” to Nazism and communism. In a book he co-authored with neocon Michael Ledeen, Flynn went several steps further, imagining radical Islamists creating a global anti-American network that linked North Korea, China, Russia, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Bolivia, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
However objectionable the foreign policies of the George W. Bush administration, its officials at least attempted to distinguish between al-Qaeda and Islam. Not Flynn, who doesn’t have to go through the confirmation process. Count on one thing, though: he won’t be an isolated nutcase in the Trump administration. His deputy, K.T. McFarland, has made similar inflammatory statements about Islam, as have Mike Pompeo (CIA director), Steve Bannon (White House chief strategist), and Jeff Sessions (attorney general).
Desperate for a sign that the Trump administration is not a Saturday Night Live parody, Democratic legislators and liberal commentators have looked for “voices of reason” among Trump’s cabinet picks. They’ve praised Secretary of Defense James Mattis and his somewhat more conventional Pentagon view of the world, while Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has also attracted support for his somewhat more conventional CEO view of the world. But even Mattis and Tillerson share hostility toward Islam.
Unravelling the Institutions
In December 2016, the UN Security Council voted to condemn Israel for its policy of building settlements in territory slated for a Palestinian state. Instead of wielding its veto power, for the first time the US abstained on such a vote. Trump almost immediately tweeted: “The United Nations has such great potential but right now it is just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
For all its flaws and contradictions, the UN sustains the flame of democratic internationalism and a belief that rules and regulations might be able to contain the chaos of conflict and help solve the world’s most pressing problems. That, not its supposedly wasted potential, is what has really earned the wrath of Trump.
The first salvo in Trump’s attack on that institution was the nomination of Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina Governor having zero experience in foreign affairs, as the US ambassador to it. Choosing her was as much a gesture of contempt as picking Rick Perry to head the Department of Energy, an agency he once desired to disband.
Indeed, the easiest way for the Trump administration to undermine the UN would simply be to unleash the anti-internationalist attack dogs in Congress who have long been eager to cut its financing. Now that they’re fully in charge, expect the Republican leadership to target funding for various UN programmes.
Keep in mind that the UN represents a potential source of organized resistance to the Trump administration, a way that the “rest” can mobilize against the “West.” It’s increasingly clear that the “West” itself is going to pose some challenges for this administration. Trump, for instance, intensely dislikes the European Union (EU). He openly supported the Brexit. “I do think keeping [the EU] together is not gonna be as easy as a lot of people think,” Trump said ominously in an interview. Like the UN, the EU has come to represent the values of inclusive internationalism, whether it’s Germany’s willingness to accommodate Syrian refugees or the diplomatic efforts of Brussels to resolve conflicts in Eurasia and the Middle East.
In its eagerness to unravel internationalism, the Trump administration won’t simply take aim at institutions like the UN and the EU. It will also target for demolition the diplomatic accomplishments of the Obama administration, including the Iran nuclear deal and détente with Cuba. Trump is poised to demolish the house of internationalism that Eleanor Roosevelt, Ralph Bunche, Jody Williams, Jimmy Carter, and so many others laboured so hard to build.
As with any real estate developer, however, Trump isn’t interested in simply tearing down the old. He wants to build something big and gaudy in its place.
The New Globalists
The first front in the Trump administration’s war to take back the world will, of course, be against Islam, which is expected to surpass Christianity as the world’s largest faith in the second half of the twenty-first century. From the Crusades to the wars against the Ottoman Empire, the very concept of “Western” developed in opposition to Islam. So, it makes a certain perverse sense for Trump to tap into this longstanding tradition in establishing his supposed defense of Western (read: American) civilization.
Trump’s White House special adviser Steve Bannon, the white supremacist who made Breitbart News such a popular mouthpiece for the far right, clearly feels at home with this clash-of-civilizations framework. But Bannon and his Trumpian ilk aren’t just focused on Islam. Noted journalist Adam Wren summed up Bannon’s message in Politico this way: “Western Civilization as we know it is under attack by forces that are demonic or foreign – the difference between those is blurry – and people in far-distant power centres are looking to screw you.”
Bannon dislikes Islam, but it’s the “globalists” who, as he sees it, represent the chief threat. He said, “The globalists gutted the American working class and created a middle class in Asia. The issue now is about Americans looking to not get f—ed over.” According to their critics, the globalists are a liberal elite that has benefitted from free trade, pushed for multiculturalism, and joined hands with their counterparts around the world in conclaves like Davos and at institutions like the UN. They despise national traditions and disparage religious values. Politically correct, they care only about minorities, not the majority. But don’t Secretary Rex Tillerson, CEO of a major energy company, or the multiple minions of Goldman Sachs who will join the administration fall right into this category of globalists? Surely, these Trump nominees are enamored of free trade, the structural adjustments of the IMF, and other institutions of economic globalization. That’s where Bannon comes in. Having worked at Goldman Sachs before putting in time in Hollywood and at Breitbart, Bannon aspires to transform the titans of industry and finance into America-first nationalists.
It’s one thing to criticize liberal internationalism for its concentrations of wealth, political privilege, and cultural snobbery. You don’t have to be a conspiracy theorist to find fault with a global economy that functions like a casino. But Trump, Bannon and others are not interested in democratizing globalism. They want to create an internationalism of their own. Think of it as a new globalism of the 1% that is Christian, deeply conservative, and subordinate to nationalist demands. Despite its appeals to the silent majority, this globalism 2.0 will benefit an even narrower slice of the elite.
With Donald Trump entering the Oval Office, say hello to a new era of the one-percenters. America’s oligarchs will profit handsomely from the administration’s infrastructure programme, its reconfigured trade deals, and its accelerated emphasis on resource extraction. For the rest of us, much pain will accompany the birth of this new nationalist world order, this confederacy of oligarchs.
This article has been extracted from John Feffer’s piece ‘The Globalism of the One Percent’
published in Tom Dispatch.