Longing for a Center that Cannot Hold

In a recent Op-Ed piece for the Washington Post, Never Trump conservative Max Boot begins with a whopper:

President Trump has launched trade wars and undermined our allies while kowtowing to tyrants. And the Democrats? They don’t have much of a foreign policy, and when the party’s progressives propound one, the results sound like Trumpism of the left.

Perhaps Max Boot thinks progressive policies “sound like Trumpism,” but they sound quite different from Trumpism to my ears.

Many progressive Democrats are skeptical of free trade (and have been for decades; Bill Clinton passed NAFTA with Republican support against the wishes of many in his own party). But I am unaware of any voices on the left arguing that trade wars are a good thing and easy to win. Boot is assuming a false dichotomy: either one must be for the status quo ante Trump, or one must be for an all-out trade war. Clearly, there are other options, such as a negotiated withdrawal from the consensus that free trade is always good, perhaps by revising existing free trade agreements into fair trade ones.

Many of us on the left are skeptical of the American empire. And for good reason: empire (and the unthinking support for it by Establishment voices like Boot) gave us the fiascoes in Iraq and Vietnam, as well as US support for bloodthirsty right-wing dictators like Augusto Pinochet, Mobutu Sese-Seko, and Suharto. Yet it is Trump who is bubbling over with enthusiasm and support for foreign autocrats (while at the same time delegitimizing empire). Again, there is the false dichotomy: either you support the status quo ante Trump, or you support Trump’s foreign policy. (How about supporting neither and not getting overly cozy with autocrats at all?)

That said, there are places where the left’s opinions more closely align with Trump’s. And so what if there are? As the old saying goes, sometimes even a stopped clock is correct. The world is not a cartoonish melodrama where all actors are either always evil and always incorrect, or always virtuous and infallible. It is nothing but a childish tantrum to assume that whatever Trump says or does must be wrong and therefore we must always do otherwise.

It is literally the truth that the economic growth during past forty years or so of free trade and deregulation has not been equitably shared. It is literally the truth that Europe pays less per capita for military expenditures and is thus in some sense freeloading on the USA. Given that US taxpayers pay for the military, it is thus the truth that Empire is costing American taxpayers, who therefore in turn could benefit under a more multipolar world.

It is an opinion, and like all opinions neither true nor false, that therefore the USA should change its trade and defense policies in an attempt to get a better overall deal for everyday Americans. It is, however, a reasonable opinion that is well-supported by facts. Furthermore, to reiterate, there are more options available than just Trumpism or the status quo ante Trump.

Now for a few more facts:

  • A growing number of those Americans made personally worse off by the policies of the US empire correctly perceive so.
  • Capitalism is the dominant economic ideology of the USA.
  • Capitalism advocates individuals competing for personal (and not collective or overall) economic gain.

It is thus empire and capitalism themselves (two ideologies beloved by Boot) which have paved the way for empire (and, increasingly, capitalism) to be delegitimized. That which originally created the old center Boot longs for has now corroded it.

Wish for the tide to not sweep in all you want, Mr. Boot, but it won’t help.

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