Q&A Friday #36: Isolationism

Question: “It’s apparent that there’s still a strong feeling of isolationism and protectionism in the American electorate. However, Republicans tend to favor open markets, Democrats tend to support international institutions, and both parties support open borders. Neither party is really catering to the isolationist/protectionist sentiment yet.

Do you think that either party (or perhaps a 3rd party) will begin to pick up on the isolationist/protectionist sentiment in the electorate and realign itsself to gain those voters?

Would an isolationist/protectionist political party be ideologically coherent or stable?” — RepublicanPig1

Answer: Americans are and have always been isolationists at heart, but as the world has become more and more interconnected and the United States has become progressively more powerful in comparison to other nations, it has become less and less feasible to simply kick back in, “Fortress America,” watch other parts of the world go to hell in a handbasket, and simply shrug our shoulders and say, “not our problem.”

While neither the GOP or the Dems could fairly be described as isolationists, isolationism is never far from the surface in American politics. Pat Buchanan and the Paleocons make up a small percentage of the GOP, but they’re isolationists/protectionists. Also, you remember Ross Perot and his, “giant sucking sound?” A significant part of his appeal was protectionism.

Furthermore, look at how the outsourcing issue popped up in the 2004 elections. Same deal with people worrying about lost manufacturing jobs. Those are both issues related to protectionism. Of course, the reality is that’s just part of the changing world we live in. Like it or not, American workers are competing with people all over the globe and while we do just fine in areas where skilled manufacturing is required — the simple lever puller, button pusher jobs, that people could make nice money and benefits on are, one way or the other, going to eventually go overseas.

When it comes to foreign policy, expect to see Americans become more isolationist because of the aftermath of 9/11. Before that day, the American people were famously uninterested in foreign affairs. But, now that they are paying attention, they’re noticing that most of the Middle-East is not only crazy, they hate our guts. Then there’s Europe where they don’t like us much either and let’s be honest, other than Britain, most European nations are appeasers with mediocre militaries that aren’t very useful to us any more anyway. The UN? It’s a corrupt, bureaucratic cesspool that’s incapable of doing much more than writing sternly worded letters that can be safely ignored without consequence. Our neighbors to the North and South? Not such good neighbors.

All these things were happening before 9/11 as well, but now Americans are noticing and there will be consequences. A lot of American troops will be brought home from abroad. We’ll be much less willing to get involved in places like Somalia or Kosovo. The opinions of Europe will become less and less important. Our “special relationship” with Britain — don’t be surprised if it ends when Tony Blair leaves office. NATO? It’s a Cold War relic that’s becoming more irrelevant by the year.

So, will we see a third “isolationist” party spring up? Doubt it. Will America become an isolationist nation? No. But, do expect to see, for good or ill, more isolationist views creeping into American politics in the coming years.

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