On 3 October 2019, President Donald Trump publicly called on the Chinese government to investigate the family of his political rival Joe Biden. Those troubled by his earlier solicitation of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine to undertake similar politically useful investigations were left doubly befuddled. As President Trump toils in earnest to erect a defense against a pending impeachment inquiry, he is redefining America’s standard for foreign election interference. He is making our elections even more open to foreign influence than they were in the wake of the Mueller investigation.
On 24 September 2019, President Trump delivered an address to the United Nations, denying globalism and asserting his duty to selfishly defend the interests of the United States. While Trump claims to reject globalism, opening American elections to foreign influence is hardly isolationist. If Trump is not an isolationist and not a globalist, what is he?
the operation or planning of economic and foreign policy on a global basis.
Curiously, this definition could easily fit the President. Nothing in it precludes foreign influence or nationalism. For comparison, consider globalism as described in Conservapedia.com:
Globalism is the failed liberal authoritarian desire for a “one world” view that rejects the important role of nations in protecting values and encouraging productivity. Globalism is anti-American in encouraging Americans to adopt a “world view” rather than an “American view.” The ultimate goal of globalism is the eventual unification of humanity under a one-world government.
While I do not embrace this alternative definition, it does suggest an element missing from the Oxford definition, a notion of humanism. The popular notion of globalism, as pursued by such organizations as the United Nations, incorporates not just anti-isolationism but also a humanist element, embodied in basic human rights that influence and may even take precedence over local national laws. When Trump says he rejects globalism he seems to be rejecting humanism, so perhaps globalism and humanism should be independent. In a lexicon where globalism and isolationism are opposites, requiring a globalist to be a humanist leaves the dialectician with no word for a person like the President who thinks globally but is manifestly anti-humanist. Alternatively, if we embrace the Oxford Lexico definition and allow globalists to cover the full spectrum from humanism to unbridled conquest, we can recognize President Trump as not just a globalist but an innovator among globalists.
This purer definition of globalism as anti-isolationism, independent of humanism, is key to understanding the Trumpian world-view. Objectively, there is nothing parochial about the President’s view of the world. With apartment towers and golf courses dotting the globe the Trump perspective is distinctly global. And while there are a lot of words a person might use to describe the president’s encouragement of a foreign power to influence an American election, I can’t see anybody of any political leaning calling it isolationist. Moreover, any American who supports the president in soliciting such foreign influence can hardly claim themselves to be an isolationist. Trump views economic progress as global conquest. For the President, there are no global laws governing our engagements. There are no basic human rights. There are only nations engaging on a global stage to selfishly pursue their independent interests. This is not isolationist at all. Many vexing contradictions can be avoided by recognizing these attitudes for what they are: extreme globalism. President Trump is extending globalism well beyond immigration and trade. Even our elections become global.
While the Enlightenment era is commonly recognized as the transition from medievalism to the modern humanist worldview, the medieval mindset is experiencing a revival. Recognizing President Trump as a medieval globalist is a liberating experience for the rational thinker, resolving many contradictory elements of his persona. A lens of extreme, global conquest brings clarity to his most provocative policies and actions. For example, taxing foreigners instead of Americans is stunning as a global strategy, and very intuitive, even if it might be unsound economically. Extreme globalism also helps to explain his decisions on military engagement, his dramatic fluster towards Iran, his ceding to Russia and Iran in Syria, his abandoning the Syrian Kurds, and his dogged pursuit of terrorists and their families in Afghanistan, the longest war in American history. Global conquest is also helpful to rationalize the curious kinship the President has expressed for Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jung Un, almost seeming to prefer these peers in conquest over duller democratic leaders like President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine (video) and President Sauli Niinistö of Finland. Extreme Globalism also helps explain the President’s view on Immigration. There is nothing isolationist about caging children, shooting refugees in the legs, sending refugees to distant dangerous countries, and the strikingly medieval strategy-fantasy of a moat full of snakes and alligators. Once one relaxes the presumption of humanism and recognizes the President’s medieval mindset, these policies make perfect sense as extreme globalism.
President Trump’s anti-democratic tendencies may be novel in western politics but they are quite ordinary in the context of global business. In that world, Trump’s interests and the corporation’s interests are one in the same, six bankruptcies notwithstanding. As CEO he is the absolute winner, the conqueror, making it his natural duty to pursue growth via peace with Russia and war with Afghanistan as these are the most important places lacking high-rise towers and golf resorts. As CEO he is decider in chief. He succeeds by making the rules, not by following rules made by others. Global business law is full of ambiguities, so for Trump the CEO, rule of law is fine provided the laws are made and interpreted by him. As in business he demands absolute loyalty from his appointed staff. Even truth is bound to obedience, with a marketing department in lieu of the press corp, charged with manufacturing truth as required by the business. It seems only natural that Trump bring the distinctively medieval character of global business governance to the White House.
Trump used the word “globalism” in his address to the United Nations as part of a missive crafted to support his political survival and eventual success. While I question his denial of “globalism,” the spirit of his comments in many ways echoes Russian President Vladimir Putin’s declaration of the irrelevance of liberal democracy, a declaration I find more accurate and authentic, even if I disagree with the conclusion. Dialectics aside, these prophecies from Trump and Putin will become true if we the public allow their brand of extreme globalism to dominate world politics. In making these statements, these leaders acknowledge that their power is not absolute. They still rely on the support of their peers and of the public, as we see in haloed chambers of Washington DC and on the streets of Hong Kong and Moscow. Are their bold assertions inevitable fact or wishful thinking? Ultimately, the citizens will decide.
Brad Chen is an engineering manager at YouTube.