Donald Trump’s return to glory at CPAC was hardly Napoleon’s return from Elba, but it was fun to listen to anyway. The once-and-maybe future president appeared tanned, rested, and ready to rumble, declaring that he had no interest or need to start a third party, because “we have the Republican party.” Meaning: He has the Republican party. It’s his party, and by implication, if you don’t like it, you can leave.
Trump trolled his devoted followers in the fake news media, who hang on and dissect his every word like Cold War Kremlinologists—no one is as attentive to his utterances as the people who deride him as an idiot, while the people who love him simply bathe in his Happy Warrior vibe—teasingly returning to his theme that Central America is sending us “rapists” and “drug smugglers,” though qualifying it by saying “they may be” such bad hombres. Has Trump learned a lesson from the national media’s pattern of selectively quoting and twisting his words, and will now take on the professional politician’s habit of never quite saying anything meaningful? Probably not, as we heard in the rest of his speech.
Trump attacked directly the Biden administration’s absurd reversal of sensible positions, such as insisting that countries accept their own criminals back without undue fuss. He, as is characteristic of a real estate developer and salesman, got a little too deep in the weeds regarding questions of who is paying not enough to whom for what services—on the matter of China’s membership fees to the World Health Organization—but his point was solid: Foreign policy is a form of deal making, and if it doesn’t serve the interests of the principal (i.e., the American people), then it is a failure. This basic principle goes back to George Washington and ought to be axiomatic, but a century of Atlanticism and then forthright Globalism have perverted American diplomacy to the point that it’s unrecognizable unless interpreted through a thick gauze of theory.
Trump has dropped the scales from the eyes of America regarding our position vis-à-vis the rest of Planet Earth. It is no longer 1945, with the United States possessing half the world’s wealth and unquestioned dominance over both sides of both oceans. We’re still rich, but at home we resemble a rich Third World country. The world is multipolar. The dispensability of the United States increases every year.
It’s instructive to compare Trump’s CPAC comments regarding foreign policy to those of his successor (usurper?) at the recent presidential “Town Hall” in Milwaukee. Asked about the question of human rights in China, and its genocidal persecution of the Uyghurs, President Biden hemmed and hawed. “We must speak up for human rights. It’s who we are,” he said. “We can’t — my comment to him was — and I know him well, and he knows me well.”
No rhetoric has suffered such abuse in the last fifty years as the language of human rights. America, whose record of support for savage dictators is second to few, and who has enthusiastically pursued all manner of brutality in the name of humanitarianism, can no longer with a straight face say that Being Good is “who we are.” Nobody believes this anymore, if they ever did. But it is interesting that Democrats retain such investment in the mythos of American charity. “America is great because America is good,” announced Hillary Clinton during her 2016 presidential campaign, but this never caught on. For Trump and his supporters, America is great because, well, America is great—it’s almost axiomatic. We are great because of our principles, not because we are do-gooders.
Biden went on, clumsily, to make excuses for why China feels more comfortable when it is “united, tightly controlled,” embarrassingly extending a fist to demonstrate how powerful Xi is as the central leader from whom all blessings flow. The distinct impression President Biden imparted was of an underling explaining his boss’s rationale for an unpopular new policy. Biden continued, lamely assuring Anderson Cooper that “we, in fact, are going to continue to reassert our role as spokespersons for human rights at the U.N. and other — other agencies that have an impact on their attitude.”
Trump lost the election, apparently, but his presidency threw elite American hypocrisy about our responsibility to the rest of the world in stark relief. Now that the elites are back in charge, the emptiness of their shadow-play on the global stage is sharply obvious.