The Jacksonian Revolt

JOE SKIPPER / REUTERS

JOE SKIPPER / REUTERS

We’ve said here often that most Europeans simply misunderstand Americans. That is true, and it is also true that Britons do better than most at understanding us, which is reasonable, given that we sprang as a nation from Brittania’s brow.

Walter Russel Mead undertook in Foreign Affairs to explain how Trump arose. I think he gets it pretty much right, and understanding it may well be fundamental going forward. (I think this is a free article, at least it came that way to me.)

American Populism and the Liberal Order

[F]or the first time in 70 years, the American people have elected a president who disparages the policies, ideas, and institutions at the heart of postwar U.S. foreign policy. No one knows how the foreign policy of the Trump administration will take shape, or how the new president’s priorities and preferences will shift as he encounters the torrent of events and crises ahead. But not since Franklin Roosevelt’s administration has U.S. foreign policy witnessed debates this fundamental.

Since World War II, U.S. grand strategy has been shaped by two major schools of thought, both focused on achieving a stable international system with the United States at the center. Hamiltonians believed that it was in the American interest for the United States to replace the United Kingdom as “the gyroscope of world order,” in the words of President Woodrow Wilson’s adviser Edward House during World War I, putting the financial and security architecture in place for a reviving global economy after World War II—something that would both contain the Soviet Union and advance U.S. interests. When the Soviet Union fell, Hamiltonians responded by doubling down on the creation of a global liberal order, understood primarily in economic terms.

Wilsonians, meanwhile, also believed that the creation of a global liberal order was a vital U.S. interest, but they conceived of it in terms of values rather than economics. Seeing corrupt and authoritarian regimes abroad as a leading cause of conflict and violence, Wilsonians sought peace through the promotion of human rights, democratic governance, and the rule of law. In the later stages of the Cold War, one branch of this camp, liberal institutionalists, focused on the promotion of international institutions and ever-closer global integration, while another branch, neoconservatives, believed that a liberal agenda could best be advanced through Washington’s unilateral efforts (or in voluntary conjunction with like-minded partners).

The disputes between and among these factions were intense and consequential, but they took place within a common commitment to a common project of global order. As that project came under increasing strain in recent decades, however, the unquestioned grip of the globalists on U.S. foreign policy thinking began to loosen. More nationalist, less globally minded voices began to be heard, and a public increasingly disenchanted with what it saw as the costly failures the global order-building project began to challenge what the foreign policy establishment was preaching. The Jeffersonian and Jacksonian schools of thought, prominent before World War II but out of favor during the heyday of the liberal order, have come back with a vengeance.

Jeffersonians, including today’s so-called realists, argue that reducing the United States’ global profile would reduce the costs and risks of foreign policy. They seek to define U.S. interests narrowly and advance them in the safest and most economical ways. Libertarians take this proposition to its limits and find allies among many on the left who oppose interventionism, want to cut military spending, and favor redeploying the government’s efforts and resources at home. Both Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky and Senator Ted Cruz of Texas seemed to think that they could surf the rising tide of Jeffersonian thinking during the Republican presidential primary. But Donald Trump sensed something that his political rivals failed to grasp: that the truly surging force in American politics wasn’t Jeffersonian minimalism. It was Jacksonian populist nationalism.

IDENTITY POLITICS BITE BACK

The distinctively American populism Trump espouses is rooted in the thought and culture of the country’s first populist president, Andrew Jackson. For Jacksonians—who formed the core of Trump’s passionately supportive base—the United States is not a political entity created and defined by a set of intellectual propositions rooted in the Enlightenment and oriented toward the fulfillment of a universal mission. Rather, it is the nation-state of the American people, and its chief business lies at home. Jacksonians see American exceptionalism not as a function of the universal appeal of American ideas, or even as a function of a unique American vocation to transform the world, but rather as rooted in the country’s singular commitment to the equality and dignity of individual American citizens. The role of the U.S. government, Jacksonians believe, is to fulfill the country’s destiny by looking after the physical security and economic well-being of the American people in their national home—and to do that while interfering as little as possible with the individual freedom that makes the country unique. 

Jacksonian populism is only intermittently concerned with foreign policy, and indeed it is only intermittently engaged with politics more generally. It took a particular combination of forces and trends to mobilize it this election cycle, and most of those were domestically focused. In seeking to explain the Jacksonian surge, commentators have looked to factors such as wage stagnation, the loss of good jobs for unskilled workers, the hollowing out of civic life, a rise in drug use—conditions many associate with life in blighted inner cities that have spread across much of the country. But this is a partial and incomplete view. Identity and culture have historically played a major role in American politics, and 2016 was no exception. Jacksonian America felt itself to be under siege, with its values under attack and its future under threat. Trump—flawed as many Jacksonians themselves believed him to be—seemed the only candidate willing to help fight for its survival.

Not since Franklin Roosevelt’s administration has U.S. foreign policy witnessed debates this fundamental.

For Jacksonian America, certain events galvanize intense interest and political engagement, however brief. One of these is war; when an enemy attacks, Jacksonians spring to the country’s defense. The most powerful driver of Jacksonian political engagement in domestic politics, similarly, is the perception that Jacksonians are being attacked by internal enemies, such as an elite cabal or immigrants from different backgrounds. Jacksonians worry about the U.S. government being taken over by malevolent forces bent on transforming the United States’ essential character. They are not obsessed with corruption, seeing it as an ineradicable part of politics. But they care deeply about what they see as perversion—when politicians try to use the government to oppress the people rather than protect them. And that is what many Jacksonians came to feel was happening in recent years, with powerful forces in the American elite, including the political establishments of both major parties, in cahoots against them.

Many Jacksonians came to believe that the American establishment was no longer reliably patriotic, with “patriotism” defined as an instinctive loyalty to the well-being and values of Jacksonian America. And they were not wholly wrong, by their lights. Many Americans with cosmopolitan sympathies see their main ethical imperative as working for the betterment of humanity in general. Jacksonians locate their moral community closer to home, in fellow citizens who share a common national bond. If the cosmopolitans see Jacksonians as backward and chauvinistic, Jacksonians return the favor by seeing the cosmopolitan elite as near treasonous—people who think it is morally questionable to put their own country, and its citizens, first.

via The Jacksonian Revolt | Foreign Affairs There is quite a lot more, all of it valuable. It is essential if you would know why America elected Donald Trump President.

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25 Responses to The Jacksonian Revolt

  1. I think I disagree with you on populism. I think middle America is fed up w/ group politics, groupthink, PC conformity. They want to live in a Republic where the rule of law, not rulers, prevail. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      I rather think that was his point, at least that is how I read him. In any case, I agree with you. But these are major currents in our history, and the Jacksonian thread has not been seen in a good long while.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Opps, maybe I’m guilty of skimming.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          Perhaps, I often do as well. OTOH, maybe you caught something I didn’t. 😉

          Like

        • I just am sensitive to our pop culture not understanding that the that those who oppose cultural marxism often are principled constituionalists, not simply followers of fox news. Peace!

          Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          I hear you. I gave up on Fox a while back, not as bad as others, but plenty bad. Hard to find a good one anymore.

          Peace, indeed.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. I would agree this was a nice piece! But, generally speaking today, America and Americans appear to be sadly divided, and almost hopelessly so? And modernity & postmodernity have ravaged the whole of the West, including Britain! Without some sense of a Judeo-Christian renewal, I fear we are headed into doom and gloom, and perhaps even World War? I hope I am of course wrong, but history and government always appear to repeat human mistakes, especially in THIS Fallen World! See Psalm 90, It is to Jehovah or Yahweh alone that “Israel” (God’s chosen people) can appeal in their distress, though He seems to have forsaken them. He has proved Himself their refuge in each succeeding age: He alone is the Eternal God: the lives of men and people are at His sovereign disposal (1-6), this is the Biblical God!

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      We always have been. Much of this goes back to the election of 1800, and Jackson’s a few years later.

      Basically the world’s been going to hell in a handcart ever since Eve ate that fool apple.

      Like

      • I would agree with the essence of Biblical Salvation History, but surely after two thousand years of Church History, with modernity and now postmodernity, I believe we are seeing, especially with Modern Israel, the end of the age approaching, and Israel and Jerusalem will quite literally be where Jesus Christ returns as Lord, (Zech. 14 / Rev. 1: 7). And I am NOT Pre-Tribulational but Post-Trib on the Rapture, but I firmly believe it will be literal, i.e. the Second Coming of Christ. As I have said many times, I cannot see humanity surviving the 21st century? But of course God alone knows!

        Like

  3. Except, of course, there was no Eve, America is a land of immigrants, change (with innovation, and disruption, and turmoil) has been America’s sole constant throughout history, and Trump is swindling the good Jacksonian patriots. Sad!

    Like

    • NEO says:

      Except there was an Eve, although not perhaps a real person. I don’t see that he is, anymore than Jackson did, anyway. He, very unusually, is doing exactly what he said he would, albeit sometimes quite clumsily. That would apply to Jackson, as well, of course.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I myself believe strongly in a literal Adam & Eve! St. Paul surely did! (Romans 5, 1 Cor. 15: 45-49 / 2 Cor.11: 3 / Gen. 3: 1-6 / 1 Tim. 2: 13-14). Btw, I have never read better notes on the Fall than E.W. Bullinger: “Not allegory: but literal history, emphasised by Figures of Speech.” See too Bullinger’s profound book: Figures of Speech Used in the Bible…1104 pages. There is simply nothing like it, simply majestical for good exegesis!

        Like

        • Btw, I am a Old Earth Creationist! See Augustine here also.

          Like

        • Hebrews 11: 3…exni-hi-lo, Out of nothing!

          Like

  4. So far it has all been just theatrics. Extreme vetting is a joke (already in place), repealing Obamacare is not tenable, climate change is real regardless of opinions, women are not going back in the kitchen/back alley, etc. On top of the lack of substance, he is offending everyone around him. I have great respect for his constituency (even if I don’t agree with all their views) and the liberal project has proven to be fertile ground for corruption, so it’s a good time to try something else. A responsibly executed Jacksonian strategy could do wonders for America and the world right now. But this ain’t it. This is “clumsy” on the order of catastrophic, and if they don’t get their act together soon, it might be the end of us all.

    Like

    • NEO says:

      Wrong, although execution needs to improve.

      Wrong.

      Wrong.

      Who said they were – equal is equal, not more equal than others.

      Name three he has offended from his constituency.

      Emotion unsupported by facts has been proven unworkable. So to convince me, you need real verifiable facts.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. It’s not emotion, quite the opposite. He has offended most of the military, his own chief of staff, and the various republicans who spoke out against the ban. But that’s not the point (whether he only offends his/Jacksonian constituents). He needs to tame his ego and read up, if he wants to assert America’s rights abroad and conservative values at home. Otherwise, he’s going to get set up, either by a foreign power, or (in a marginally less damaging scenario), by the “democrats” when they eventually wake up from their hangover. The adults need to take over the reins pronto. Agreed on facts.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      On that, I tend to agree. But then again, I didn’t see him as viable any time in the last 18 months, so maybe he knows more than I do. I try not to nit-pick any president, I tried (not always successfully) even with Bush and Obama. They’re all going to make mistakes.

      Like

  6. Ike Jakson says:

    Great piece NEO. I have read The Jacksonian Persuasion and I am proud to be associated with the man. The last Yeoman President I think he was called. Yeo Man, Go Man.

    Liked by 1 person

    • NEO says:

      I thought it pretty good, as well, Ike. It describes me quite well, and you know the funny part is, if you had asked me a year ago, I would have described me as a Hamiltonian. But I guess we live and learn. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ike Jakson says:

        You are a Great American, NEO. I hope your numbers grow and grow.

        Liked by 1 person

        • NEO says:

          That overstating it a bit, Ike. I’m pretty average. But I like it! 🙂 We’ll see, I guess.

          Like

    • Good to hear ole Ike again! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ike Jakson says:

        The pleasure is mine Fr Robert.

        Liked by 1 person

        • And it is a pleasure mate! 🙂 May we all Keep The Faith! (And there is only One Faith too, in Jesus Christ, the Savior & Lord!)… I will stay at this “wheel” unto my end!

          Liked by 2 people

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