Decline and Fall

As Globalization Breaks Down, Wars of Identity Loom

Perversely, the progressive resistance to Trump within the United States mirrors the grim identity conflicts his withdrawal from the global order will create.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

The signposts are freshly painted—NO TPP; BREXIT; CALEXIT—but the road turning off from globalization is a well-known one. The Trump Administration and Republican Congress are going down it at a steady, accelerating pace.

The signposts up ahead also point to recognizable danger. The next epoch in a cycle that recorded civilization has followed predictably for at least five thousand years is tribal savagery, also known as wars of identity.

What indicates that we are doomed to repeat the tragedy of decline and fall of global comity? The examples are like clues to an Agatha Christie whodunit wherein everyone turns out to be guilty.

Begin with the domestic expressions of “America First” in the Trump White House. The administration communicates correctly that it was elected on the promise of ending arguably unfair trade treaties not only with adversaries such as China but also with allies such as Canada, Japan, Australia, and Mexico.

The administration is also following through on its promise to close the U.S. gates to a list of untrusted identities. The nationalities include unstable suspects from the Muslim world, but the logic of raising a drawbridge points to the list’s growing to include everyone who cannot prove a negative, that his or her origins are riskless.

Also, the rhetorical contest over who pays for building a wall along the Mexican border is an expression of extreme distrust toward the non-English-speaking regions of the New World.

Surprisingly, the Democratic and Progressive opposition to the Trump Administration’s Republican-endorsed anti-globalization policies looks a lot like identity conflict within the U.S. borders.

California’s Secretary of State has ruled that the “Yes California” group can gather signatures to present a 2018 ballot that will start the “CALEXIT” process of allowing the whole state to vote to leave the union. This is overt secession as well as another version of closing borders, raising barriers, fearing outside identities. Polling says that 1 in 3 Californians supports departure.

CALEXIT is also a philosophical rejection of the written Constitution of the world’s oldest democracy. The ballot will ask for endorsement to remove the guarantee in the California Constitution that the state is “an inseparable part of the United States of America, and the United States Constitution is the supreme law of the land.”

Long before possible secession, just achieving the ballot with the fact of the necessary half a million signatures will communicate that the vineyard of liberty is withering along the Pacific.

The sanctuary cities phenomenon is another domestic illustration of identity separatism within these still somewhat United States.

The Trump administration has declared that it will deny critical funding—a siege tactic—to any municipality that defies national policy on undocumented immigrants.

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New York’s Mayor Bill de Blasio responded as if wearing armor atop the walls of his fortress, “We’re going to defend all of our people regardless of where they come from, regardless of their immigration status.”

Boston’s Mayor Martin Walsh sang out the romance of religious sanctuary. “To anyone who feels threatened today, or vulnerable, you are safe in Boston.” Walsh then constructed a last redoubt of the imagination against Washington, “If necessary, we will use City Hall itself to shelter and protect anyone who’s targeted unjustly.”

Overseas, the end of this current globalization epoch—dating from the 1945 UN, the 1947 GATT, the 1948 NATO, the 1949 Marshall Plan, the 1950 UN war in Korea—is starkly obvious in Europe and Asia. The beggaring of the European Union and the rusting of NATO are symptoms, not causes, of anti-globalization.

BREXIT has restored the island of Great Britain to its natural defenses to be surrounded by the legendary wall of oak of the Royal Navy. Prime Minister Theresa May is openly searching for a restoration of the special relationship with the U.S., perhaps to reawaken the long dreamed about Anglosphere league of well-armed and prickly democracies.

Continental Europe is fragmenting into national and cultural identities that can appear to be a recapitulation of the last four centuries of imperial mayhem.

France’s anti-globalization trend likely dissuaded the socialist François Hollande from even running for re-election and now has raised the possibility of that nation electing Front National Marine Le Pen and her nationalist slogan, “Au nom du people” (in the name of the people).

Germany’s pending election puts Chancellor Angela Merkel under extreme pressure to demonstrate gate-keeping by reversing her unpopular order to usher in Middle Eastern and African refugees. Merkel is also squeezed between the Trump Administration’s demand for trade balance with the heavily exporting Germany and the Kremlin’s demand that Germany agree to an end to sanctions over the annexation of Crimea.

There is no better European example of the old ways of tribal ferocity than in the endlessly hostile Balkans, where Serbia, humiliated by NATO in 1998, is now provoking Kosovo in what looks to be a campaign to reclaim its lost province with the battle flag, “Kosovo Is Serbia.”

In Asia, the People’s Republic of China practices teeth-bared annexation in the South China Sea while denouncing the U.S. as an outside aggressor and warning Taiwan that the day of reconquest is closer if it continues to treat with Trump.

As Japan rearms, its response to China’s militarizing islands in the South China Sea is to distribute Coast Guard vessels to Vietnam and to welcome the forward basing of America’s fifth generation F-35 warplane along with the overtasked but dominating firepower of the Pacific Fleet.

The clearest example of the end of globalization in Asia is that the PRC, while claiming fair trade, is freshly defeating longstanding methods to bypass the Great Firewall, thus cutting off China’s markets and entrepreneurs from information and trade. As China closes down access to foreign investors and enterprises, Chinese capital flight accelerates to dollar havens in North America.

What is the worst-case scenario of the present rush away from globalization and toward the violence of the supremacy of identity?

I highly recommend a new telling of the Great War, Robert Gaudi’s African Kaiser: General Paul Von Lettow-Vorbeck and the Great War in Africa, 1914-1918. Gaudi provides astonishing facts of ignominy, massacre and a complete absence of reason nearly five thousand miles from the battlefields of France and Belgium by hundreds of thousands of African, Asian and European soldiers who had no hope of gaining anything for themselves or their families.

The lesson I take is that, once globalization ends, it is possible that there is no stopping before the worst-case destination on the horizon.