Cold War No More: To Understand The Rift Among Republicans, Look To Foreign Policy
President Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. ground troops from Syria has sparked both praise and outrage across the entirety of the political landscape. Republicans are particularly divided on this issue, with Senators like Rand Paul (R-KY) showing support for the withdrawal, versus Senators like Marco Rubio (R-FL) in opposition. The decision even prompted the highly-praised James “Jim” Mattis to resign his cabinet position as Defense Secretary. President Trump, attempting to mend the fracture, allegedly agreed to a slow withdrawal, being persuaded in a meeting with Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC), thus cooling down a situation that had been at a hot boil. This “hot boil” is really a slow ferment, as foreign policy has been a hot button issue for Republicans since Ronald Reagan. However, with a flip in the party’s dominating worldview since Trump took office, one has to ask, is the Republican party undergoing a fundamental change?
Cold War Conservatism
Before we go into the change, let’s take a look at where the status quo of the Republican party came from. “Cold War Conservatism,” which may be colloquially referred to as “Neo-Conservativism” (however, this term is derogatory), is a philosophy comprised of forming a global alliance with western countries to assertively promote liberal democracy in international affairs, including through military and economic means. Cold War Conservatism evangelizes national defense through preemptive warfare, where it is deemed necessary to preemptively stop threats to national security by deploying military and political means around the world before those threats come home. I use this term, “Cold War Conservatism,” as a nod of the philosophy’s origin, where its application worked wonders after World War II leading up to the 1990s.
Some notable modern day Cold War Conservatives include people like Political Analyst Bill Kristol, National Security Advisor John Bolton, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, former President George W. Bush, and the late Senator John McCain, who stood as the symbol of this philosophy in the 21st century. Some policies that a Cold War Conservative might advocate are the War on Terror, the War in Iraq, the War in Syria, and mass data collection, to name a few.
Criticisms of Cold War Conservatism
As one could imagine, a global alliance and preemptive strategy are expensive, costing the American taxpayer $5.9 trillion. Not only that, but persistent global intervention irritates countries, unrecognized states or territories, and ethnic minorities in foreign countries resulting in blowback. Some have even suggested that the attacks perpetrated on September 11th were the result of decades of U.S. intervention in the Middle East.
The root of American Conservatism is found in the heartland. The values of small town business owners, coal miners, steel workers, farmers, and others of the rural class do not match those of conservatives in Washington. The latter’s blanket “free trade” philosophy and lateral trade agreements have not only led to companies leaving the United States (and taking those jobs with them), but they have also absorbed international and multicultural social philosophies that oppose the values of Protestant Christians, who form the foundation of their electorate. These people began to feel disenfranchised with this establishment philosophy, being called, “America’s Forgotten People,” a term coined by a new brand of conservatism:
The Rise of American Nationalism and Changes in the Republican Party
Donald Trump’s presidency is a hallmark for several reasons: he had no prior political experience, he questioned the birthplace of the president at the time, but most importantly, he was a different kind of Republican that spoke his mind and sought to radically change the Cold War Conservative dogma of global alliances and preemptive warfare.
American Nationalism, as it has come to be called, is a conservative philosophy that focuses trade and military operations within the mainland United States, instead of around the world. This philosophy includes proportionate trade policy, a non-interventionist foreign policy, payment from global allies for perpetual protection, and a strong border defense.
This brand of conservatism was foreseeable with the prior rise of the defamed Tea-Party movement, that many believe was hijacked by establishment Republicans. However, the “silent majority,” as they’ve been called, had never left.
Just seven years ago, the Republicans sported Mitt Romney, then former Governor of Massachusetts, as their presidential nominee to challenge former President Barack Obama’s re-election. Despite being made politically famous for being a Republican in a strongly democratic state, and for pursuing a statewide government healthcare plan dubbed “Romneycare” … well, truthfully, I can’t remember why they chose him. But Romney is back in the political arena and his return as a Utahan Senator has been less than appreciated by, what looks like, the critical mass of the Republican electorate.
This change has not only occurred on a federal level. Prior to the midterm election, Donald Trump had endorsed 75 candidates for the House of Representatives and 22 in the Senate, of which 42, or 55% had gone on to win in the House, as well as 11 seats, or 50%, in the Senate. Even left-leaning media outlets have stated, “Trump may have lost the house, but he won the midterm election”.
As old ghosts of past governments like Romney re-posture themselves into the political arena, they bring some of their outdated opinions with them. The Cold War Conservative complains that American Nationalism is “too brash,” “divisive,” and a type of “bullying.” Quite the accusation for somebody who once strongly advocated “peace through strength” – a philosophy that brought neither peace to the world nor strength to the U.S.
The continuance of American Nationalism will depend on President Trump’s continued promises being fulfilled, and his ability to navigate political waters to ward off both Cold War Conservatives and the Democratic Party. So far, staffers have been replaced, members of the cabinet have been replaced, and congressional candidates have been replaced, but the President remains.
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