Stewart M. Patrick

The Internationalist

Patrick assesses the future of world order, state sovereignty, and multilateral cooperation.

Print Print Cite Cite
Style: MLA APA Chicago Close


Goodbye to All That? World Order in the Wake of Trump

by Stewart M. Patrick
November 9, 2016

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump speaks at his election night rally in Manhattan, New York, on November 9, 2016. (Carlo Allegri/Reuters)


Among its many implications, Donald Trump’s election as president calls into question the open liberal international order this country has championed and defended for more than seven decades. The edges of that order were already fraying, thanks to disenchantment with the global economy and the return of geopolitical competition, particularly with Russia and China. Trump’s triumph will accelerate its disintegration, by undermining the network of rules, institutions, and alliances that twelve presidents, Republican and Democratic alike, have nurtured since 1945.  The results of the election suggest that the main threats to the liberal world order are no longer foreign but domestic.

Trump won because he recognized and tapped into deep public anxieties about the direction of the United States and its role in the world. Specifically, he understood that a growing number of Americans mistrust globalization, are weary of overseas commitments, and are determined to reassert sovereign control over U.S. borders. The U.S. political and economic establishment consistently underestimated the strength of Trump’s populist appeal, in part because elites (including this author) were not looking in the right places or listening to the right people. In the wake of the candidate’s stunning victory, those of us who still believe that the United States has an international vocation abroad need to turn our gaze homeward.

Trump’s victory suggests just how hard it has become to reconcile U.S. politics with multilateral cooperation. To bridge this domestic-international divide, internationally-inclined Americans must confront three public attitudes on dramatic display during the 2016 election cycle—and which helped propel Trump to victory.

  • Distrust of globalization. Trump rode to power on the backs of the losers of globalization. From the outset of his campaign, he challenged a core premise of past Republican candidates—namely, that international trade benefits both U.S. businesses and consumers. His relentless attacks on “awful,” “horrible” trade deals resonated with anxious middle class and blue collar workers, particularly downwardly mobile white men, who felt left behind by the world economy. The conviction that today’s world economy is rigged against average Americans gained steam after the “great recession” and was a theme that transcended party lines, helping to account for Bernie Sanders’s remarkable success and Hillary Clinton’s ultimate disavowal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Two decades ago, Patrick J. Buchanan’s “pitchfork populism” attracted no more than twenty percent of the Republican electorate. Today, his ideological heir is bound for the White House.
  • Wariness of overseas commitments. Throughout his run for the presidency, Trump repeatedly described the United States as a victim of freeloading allies who were playing Uncle Sam for a sucker. Discarding decades of unflinching U.S. support for NATO, Japan, South Korea, and others, he advocated a transactional approach that would make U.S. alliance commitments contingent on whether foreigners began pulling their weight. He also excoriated Barack Obama—and George W. Bush before him—for entangling the United States in endless, pointless wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and elsewhere. Trump’s promise to lead a more detached, narrowly self-interested United States resonated with U.S. citizens no longer willing to accept international burdens as the price for U.S. global leadership.
  • Restoring U.S. sovereignty. Trump’s most consistent applause line among supporters was his pledge to build a “great big, beautiful wall” on the U.S. southern border—and to have Mexico pay for it. This radical proposal was both ridiculously impractical and objectively unnecessary, given the Obama administration’s own crackdown on illegal immigration and reverse migration to Mexico. But like so much of Trump’s effective rhetoric, it benefited from a crude simplicity. It also resonated with an intuitive public understanding of national sovereignty. As the candidate’s online platform helpfully explained, “A nation without borders is not a nation.” Or as the candidate himself said, “Got to have a country, people.” This theme of restoring U.S. sovereignty will surely be central to the Trump presidency. It will influence not only U.S. immigration policy, but also the administration’s stance toward international organizations like the United Nations, which are easily tarred as alien and unfriendly terrain for U.S. national interests.

For U.S. internationalists, the election of Donald Trump poses a monumental challenge—albeit one with roots in U.S. history. What Trump proposes is essentially a return to what the scholar Walter Russell Mead terms the “Jacksonian” tradition in U.S. foreign policy. This populist strain in U.S. diplomacy, dating from the presidency of Andrew Jackson, depicts the outside world as an alien and dangerous place. Jacksonians tend to advocate an insular foreign policy, while lashing out with a “don’t tread on me” ferocity when challenged from abroad. This detached, unpredictable, and reactive style stands in stark contrast to the dominant strain of internationalism that has marked U.S. foreign policy since the days of Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman—and which has long reassured partners and allies.

The effort to rebuild a bipartisan internationalist consensus in the United States cannot begin soon enough. But it can only succeed if its would-be architects take seriously the popular anxieties that Trump has channeled and exploited in his rise to the world’s most powerful office. This means doing three things.

First, internationalists must seek a more humane world economy that provides tangible benefits not only to well-connected elites but also to working people. This implies forging a new social bargain at home to reconcile the world economy with protections for American workers and communities. Fortunately, there is a historic precedent here. When the Roosevelt administration, along with Great Britain, laid the foundations for the postwar world economy at Bretton Woods in 1944, they took it for granted that the global market needed to be tempered, and that national governments would need policy space to intervene in the market to pursue full employment and other social welfare goals. But that bargain—which scholars call the “compromise of embedded liberalism”—has largely disintegrated in recent decades. Global trade and capital has been liberalized and titans of finance have flourished, but too often the “little guy” has been left behind. Restoring faith in the global economy will require persuading U.S. citizens that new international trade agreements crafted to make them less vulnerable can help to deliver on the American Dream.

Second, internationalists will need to persuade a skeptical U.S. electorate that alliances are deeply in the U.S. national interests—and should not be transformed into a cynical protection racket. This will not be easy. For most of American history, the United States, following the admonitions of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, steered clear of “entangling alliances.” That pattern broke dramatically after World War II. The question now is whether the United States will go “back to the future,” adopting a policy of retrenchment or even isolation. That would be a disaster for both the nation and indeed the world, which depends on the United States to serve—out of enlightened self-interest—as the ultimate guarantor of global order. At the same time, international and domestic realities will force internationalists to scale down the scope of their globalist ambitions and advocate more prudent policies. The lesson of recent U.S. misadventures in the Middle East is that there are limits to U.S. power—and to the patience of the American people.

Finally, internationalists must come to terms with a sovereignty-minded public that insists on controlling the U.S. border, retaining freedom of action abroad, and safeguarding U.S. constitutional liberties from foreign encroachments both real and imagined. The United States was the first republic founded on the principle of popular sovereignty, which implies that governments reflect the consent of the governed and the will of the people. And in this election the people who supported Donald Trump had a lot to say. Some of it was tinged with an ugly nativism, and occasionally racism. But it boiled down to this: we want our country back—from illegal immigrants, from international treaties and organizations, and from global elites who neither understand nor care about us. For internationalists, this may be the hardest nut to crack: Persuading the American electorate that sustained international cooperation, rather than unilateral action, is the most promising path to U.S. security, prosperity, and well-being—and that entering into international agreements is not an abdication of sovereignty, but indeed its exercise.

Post a Comment 18 Comments

  • Posted by Luke

    Hi Steward M. Patrick,

    This “Jacksonian” sends you a message … you “internationalists” will FAIL.

    Good day sir,


  • Posted by S.lakshma reddy

    Rightly described and reflect the mood of american nay many developed is but a temporary retreat for globalism before it resurges and swallows nationalism as its in many moments history.

    What is needed is a conscious United gloobal forces to defeat ultra national fanatic forces to advance global democratic forces along free trade protogonists in UN democratic political sovereighty against tyrannical/dictatorial offshoots.

    Time is running before such regrouping on global scale to make out history repetition at a renewed scale.

  • Posted by Vin. Palkar

    A strong Donald and a strong America helps all freedom loving societies here…

  • Posted by Marco

    I have read in a blog a few months ago something that reasonated with me quite strongly:
    “The American liberal international order, which largely held sway over the non-communist world during the Cold War, and which was extended to the entire world after 1989, is currently under assault—overseas by Russia, China, Iran, Sunni extremists, and others—and at home, by the Sanders left, the academic realists, libertarians, and paleocon/nationalists. As to the domestic opponents, some would do away with the American liberal international order altogether, others believe that counterproductive components (e.g., alliances, military force structure and bases, free trade) can be abandoned, while the essential structure, or at least American security, remains intact or will be enhanced.”

    I think the elites who believe in this global structure will have to do more to explain the benefits to average people, if you look at opinion polls you could have seen the huge amount of dissatisfaction within the population for years. Just look at YouTube comments sections in your videos at CFR. Usually your videos barely get 300+ views and 1 or 2 comments spouting some vitriolic conspiracy theory, often antisemitic in tone. Look at comments sections on Hillary videos and read what they have to say. Of course comments sections are not fully representative of everyone in the country, often they tend to aggrevate the angriest voices, but it is still a reflection of the Zeitgeist and the sentiments and passions and ideas whirling around the world.

    The think tanks like CFR, Woodrow Wilson Institute and Brookings, which I actually generally like and respect, live in massive bubbles. As a millennial male, I listen to them and am impressed by their depth of knowledge when it comes to policy issues and geopolitics and whatnot but sometimes they reveal themselves to be so out of touch with the average population that it’s kinda laughable. There were warning signs of something like Trump coming around everywhere in American culture.

    Take for example the 2013 poll by PPP showing that “28% of voters believe secretive power elite with a globalist agenda is conspiring to eventually rule the world through an authoritarian world government, or New World Order. A plurality of Romney voters (38%) believe in the New World Order compared to 35% who don’t”

    That is a MASSIVE amount of people. These people basically believe the charismatic lunatic ravings of Alex Jones, which, again, is not surprising if you wouldn’t live in such a giant bubble. Alex Jones has 1.7 million YouTube subscribers. CNN has 1.6 million subscribers. Just for the record, we are talking about this Alex Jones:

    and here he is, interviewing the President-elect:

    If any of you at the CFR don’t know who he is: wakey wakey. Try and learn who Americans are listening to in the absence of a coherent, persuasive voice telling them what to believe in.

    RussiaToday has 1.9 million subscribers on YouTube, also more than CNN. There is now a widespread neo-Russophilia in western societies.

    It is your responsiblity to try to explain to people the things you hold dear in a persuasive argument and you’ve failed to do so for quite a long time and in the absence of that voices like Alex Jones are filling the void.

    I know it has never been easy to defend liberal democracy, even during WW2 there were a lot of people, even on the so-called pacifist left, who wrote favorably of Hitler. There were kneejerk sentiments defending Hitler and establishing false equivalencies between Churchill and Hitler. George Orwell always brilliantly called them out in his essays like The Lion and the Unicorn or Notes on Nationalism. Those are essays more people should read.

    But as of now, trust and loyalty in the fundamental legitimacy of the liberal capitalist democratic system and its institutions is at a historic low on both sides of the left and right. We haven’t seen such a breakdown in trust and so much counter-Enlightenment sentiment in the general population since the first half of the 20th century. Most people would be hard-pressed to even fully describe what the liberal capitalist democratic system even is, because there’s been a horrendous abdication of civic education, which many talked about this election cycle, but now the chickens have come home to roost and you’ll have to deal with the consequences.

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    Trump delivered the message, which resonated with Americans, that the established order has utterly failed to deliver positive results on foreign policy and the domestic economy. He cited the conflicts in the Middle East, North Africa and the Ukraine in particular. He wants to replace the belligerent militarist policy of conquest with one of mutual cooperation and respect among nations. He cited the anti-Russian policy in particular, which Americans recognize as their government’s misguided attempt to quash all competition and establish an order where the US is on top. This does not establish a fair and creative playing field, and will always be opposed by average Americans. The incredible wealth–Americans’ wealth–devoted to destroying nations such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, the Ukraine and an attempt with Syria, is something that they wish to put a stop to as quickly as possible. It is not a matter of making Americans come around to the establishment’s misguided policies. Rather it is a matter of forcing change to those policies. It is not a matter of Americans shrinking from the burdens of leadership, but a matter of putting a stop to the wanton recklessness that has guided US foreign policy for too many decades.

  • Posted by John Hansen

    Interesting analysis! Thank you!

    John Hansen

  • Posted by Louis

    I like the sound of all of it.

  • Posted by James Cannon III

    Trump only tapped into a small portion of what motivates Americans and it was enough for him to secure victory. Americans have not historically been internationalists, and when we became so it was only reluctantly after the Europeans misbehaved. We were left with few other alternatives. The 70 yrs that you cite are meaningless to most average Americans. Average Americans identify as American citizens not Global citizens.
    I served as the RC-W Medical Entomologist during OEF 2010-2011. The Afghans are a strange mixture of islam and tribalism. Most of our political leadership did not seem to understand these nuances. They treated them as Arab muslims, when in fact, tribalism often competed, if not outright beat Islamic influences. The problem was with those who decided how we engaged the Afghan on the ground always seemed so sure of who they were dealing with and place “one size fits all” labels on these people. This is mistake #1 and is the same mistake I see in this article by oversimplifying what makes Americans tick.
    As I said, Americans identify as American citizens (and this is important) not global citizens. This is a concept that many families such as mine, that have roots in America prior to the Revolution, have carefully maintained. We also do not sit static. As we engage new immigrants at our places of employment, in service organizations, wherever… we help them to understand this concept, we ignite this patriotic spark in all those we touch.
    Many of those in the Officer Corps, are not only educated and well off, but we generally have similar opinions on what defines us as Americans. Your mistake is when you ask a General what the average soldier or company grade officer thinks. You have to remember that once you attain ranks field grade or higher it becomes ever more increasingly political where “yes men” and astute politicians make the cut. These sorts are already out of touch with the vast population of those that serve beneath them. So in my humble opinion, you are only ever getting a very insular outlook when you keep leaning on the same class of politician, academic, or general for advice on really what makes average Americans tick. Most of us joined knowing the profession doesn’t make one rich, and we are willing to lay down our lives for something much larger than a simple paycheck.
    The real issue that I see here is that this article seems to suggest that if we somehow repackage this internationalist concept and wrap it in premium wrapping paper with a huge shiny bow on it, somehow Americans will embrace it wholesale. The real issue is that they will never accept your product until their real grievances are addressed. This election highlighted one very important issue: Corruption. Americans want to see that everyone plays by the same laws, that means accountability for anyone, even a president if need be. Everyone knows govt is wasteful, which leads to issue #2. We need a more efficient govt and one that does not carelessly waste tax payer money. My wife works in public finance and when tax increases go to the ballot, some of the chief issues all tend to be “why should we pay more, when the govt is terribly inefficient and wasteful?” At townhall meetings this is a very common theme. Taxpayers want the govt to prove it can be responsible before they just hand over more money. Anyways, these are just a few of the huge list of issues that govt in general needs to bridge before they get any meaningful support.
    My absolute best advice here is to stop asking so called experts and leadership what people think. My opinion is you need to start asking lower and mid managers, company grade officers and NCO’s, union stewards etc what the real conditions on the ground are. They are the true experts.

  • Posted by Fiendly Neighbourhood Terrorist

    “That would be a disaster for both the nation and indeed the world, which depends on the United States to serve—out of enlightened self-interest—as the ultimate guarantor of global order.”

    Are you serious? Is this a joke? Look what you have done to Vietnam, Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Central America and Cambodia just for a few examples. You call this order? And who says that you have a mandate from the world for anything?

  • Posted by Rick Veleke

    This article seems a little gloomy. I was in support of Trump until what appeared to me as blatant racism, but I remember what I really liked at the beginning was a humility of a kind where he admitted that his lack of knowledge would be tempered by being surrounded with really smart people. I felt he was talking about people like you, and your organization. The work, all that has been accomplished is not a castle made of sand, and because the work has been built in the hearts ans minds, it will not fall to the sea, eventually.

    Conceptually, It is convenient that policy is considered either right or left. America has been beseiged since the beginning by those who oppose her ideology, and she fights back with the combination of lefts and rights. And perhaps Trump can break through a psyche built on generations of systematic abuse at the hands of Mongolian oppressors, domestic oppressors, offering Putin a face-saving way of extricating his country from the Ukraine bringing Russia back to the table.

  • Posted by Peter Duveen

    Rick, how about a face-saving way for President-elect Trump to have NATO troops withdraw from Russia’s border? Since the US was likely instrumental in bringing down the democratically elected Ukrainian president, it is difficult to understand why Russia would need to save face or relinquish Crimea. Independent polls indicate a very high level of support among the Crimean population for the province’s move to become part of Russia. It certainly saved Crimeans from the atrocities committed by the US-backed Right Sector and other radical right Ukrainian militia groups against the population in eastern Ukraine. A greater diversity of opinion on this website, one in fact more in line with some of the the views on foreign policy expressed by President-elect Trump during his campaign, would improve the discourse on this website immeasurably, in my opinion.

  • Posted by Jesse Ambriz

    Trump said many things some of which he might have just said to get elected ( i dont know). That’s fine that trump said all these nice tings. He wants to bringing back the country like it was a long time ago. Hopefully he knows how the country was long time ago since most of the people don’t know what those simple times are. He has to deal with many foreign issues including the religions of the world and personal ideologies including this new crop of people called SJW’s (political correctness)…….. But as a story goes, “ “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”― Heraclitus.… this is true on the environment and the people living within this country and the world. The population has grown, we have technologies that we did not have may years ago, medicine that helps people live longer, environmental problems such as global warming and much more. So, hes going to deal with varies problems. We will see how he handles them. As for now all eyes or on him and he has to step forward with caution.

  • Posted by Rick Veleke

    I disagree, there is a significant diversity in the content here. I see consistent efforts for methods that keep another Pearl Harbor from ever happening, again. And yet, much, much more than that. Shrinking from this task bears disastrous consequences.

    That is a difficult question, one that I had not considered. The necessity for the United States to save face withdrawing Nato troops from around Russia. My understanding was that Nato deployed because of a build-up of troops within her borders. And, as I try to avoid bias in my research, I accept this premise as true.

    So what am I working with? Trump as builder? This is probably the best possible characteristic for this challenge. As his brilliant predecessor has said, to paraphrase, there are those who build and those who destroy. The option here is build a wall that, though it is intangible, is stronger and more enduring. Rule of Law.

    Engage to build that wall which draws the line between accountability for actions on the international stage and those actions that perpetuate injustice guaranteeing further conflict. Evolving past these injustices and inequities to unite to build that which affirms the rights of all to live in dignity and equality. This includes self-determination, but not at the cost to others. Settle this difference, once and for all.

    We already work together to build relationships, but it has not reached full saturation within our nations. Make it so that we don’t have to backtrack to settle quarrels the old way, but in adherence to the mandate of the ICC, Resolve this completely, then go get that rock a few light years a way that is a diamond the size of the moon.

    This would save face for everyone.

  • Posted by Terri

    If you globalists would like to win on this or any ideology, you need to stop sucking the American economy for your takeover of Nations! You need to stop trying to depopulate and begin with honesty!

    Come out from the Iron Curtain Dr. Oz! Stop allowing America to be poisoned via the skies and our food supply! Enough is enough! Take responsibility for the people whose lives you rule! Stop overstepping your boundaries against the human race! And stop lying!!

    Your games are harming not only America but the entire world! Who will survive your damages to make you more money? We are one! If we dies as a nation as a world, you and your families are included, like it or not!

    Start regulating the pharmaceutical and medical industries in the USA! It’s not rocket science! Insurance doesn’t belong in healthcare – lets call a spade a spade!

    You made this mess! Now fix it!! We outnumber you and it’s only a matter of time before those people on the streets right now find you!! Please, fix this mess!!

    Have some common decency! Have you all lost your minds from inbreeding too much!?!

  • Posted by Terri

    Rick, I concur! That wall… it should be a sanctuary of homes and businesses that allow people to find hope and thrive for a better tomorrow!

    Walls can be a wonderful thing! Good fences make good neighbors! However, lets not pretend we don’t know why the Mexican border has issues or why Mexican drug cartels run people into the US!

  • Posted by Charlie O.

    Trump would have defeated Sanders too in spite of his long term fight for the working class being left out of gains and opportunities only now afforded to the upper 10%. Trump was elected on the basis of white nationalism not unlike Putin’s appeal to Slavic/Russian nationalism to create an authoritarian state. Trump’s recent appointments will only further enrich Wall Street and the business interests which have caused such inequality in the US in the first place.

  • Posted by redacted

    CFR, Globalists, Zionists, et. al. your days are numbered. Thanks to the free flow of information, we don’t need your “analysis” of world events. We don’t need your “recommendations.” I encourage all patriots to blow any whistle you can and leak leak leak everything all day every day. US can be sovereign again.

  • Posted by Deplorable

    Obama is not deporting nor self self deporting. Your blog is propaganda! Fake statistics and pretty much smug lies

Post a Comment

CFR seeks to foster civil and informed discussion of foreign policy issues. Opinions expressed on CFR blogs are solely those of the author or commenter, not of CFR, which takes no institutional positions. All comments must abide by CFR's guidelines and will be moderated prior to posting.

* Required