U.S. Elections & Brexit: Can Liberalism Survive?
This event took place on Thursday, September 8, 2016
This event is part of an occasional Senior Fellows series.
DAVID SPEEDIE: It's football season, believe it or not, so welcome to the kickoff event for a new and rich season of programs here at the Carnegie Council. We hope you can join us for many more through the year. We really have quite a lineup, so keep checking your emails and website and so on and so forth.
I'm David Speedie, the director of the program on U.S. Global Engagement here at the Council.
It's gratifying to see a full house for this opening event. I think that's a testimony both to the criticality of the issue—"Can Liberalism Survive?"—and to the caliber of the panel who take up that question.
It's not quite 25 years since the political scientist Francis Fukuyama wrote a book with the arresting title The End of History and the Last Man. Now, I'm sure virtually everyone in this room is familiar with both the book and the central premise. But here, I think, is the pivotal paragraph with regard to our evening. He said: "What we may be witnessing is not just the end of the Cold War, or the passing of a particular period of post-war history, but the end of history as such: that is, the end point of mankind's ideological evolution and the universalization of Western liberal democracy as the final form of human government."
Well, 25 years on, I think we'd all agree we see a very different global landscape from that which Fukuyama had predicted.
Last year, 2015—just one more quote—Freedom House, which monitors global democracy, issued a report that said: "The world was battered by crises that fueled xenophobic sentiment in democratic countries, undermined the economies of states dependent on the sale of natural resources, and led authoritarian regimes to crack down harder on dissent. These developments contributed to the 10th consecutive year of decline in global freedom."
And, by the way, these reversals that Freedom House listed are not just in the darkest cases that it lists—the Middle East and North Africa—but, as I think our speakers will discuss, in established democracies in Europe.
So thus, it has become commonplace in the Western media to read such headlines and encapsulations as "Global Democratic Recession"; "Premature Democratization," speaking about the Arab Spring in particular; "Illiberal Democracy"; and, tangentially but related, "Democratic Capitalism Is in Peril," "A More Conservative Vision of Europe," "A Cultural Counterrevolution"; and now Paul Mason has just written a book, Postcapitalism: A Guide to Our Future.
So, question: Is the inexorable march to worldwide democracy, or at least toward liberal democracy, slowed, stalled, or even reversed?
To address this—an issue inevitably embedded in our own presidential campaign, by the way; and beyond, in terms of U.S. engagement with the world—we have three expert voices. I'll not do the tedious thing of repeating what you have in front of you, because that takes up time and is unnecessary.
But, in order of presentation, we have: Stephen Walt, who is the Robert and Renee Belfer Professor of International Affairs at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government; Nikolas Gvosdev, a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Naval War College; and, over on the far left, Devin Stewart, my colleague here, senior program director and senior fellow of the Asia Dialogues research and exchange program here.
We've asked Stephen and Nick to speak for just about 10 minutes, if possible; Devin will act as respondent and speak for somewhat less than that; and then, with this size of an audience, we want plenty of time for questions and answers.
Steve, you're our leadoff man.
STEPHEN WALT: Great. It's a pleasure to be here and I'm grateful for the opportunity.
My reputation as a realist notwithstanding, I come here not to bury liberalism but to praise it. I share its values. I'm grateful to live in a liberal society. I even think most countries would be better off if they embraced those same principles. So I'm taking no pleasure in the problems that the liberal project is now experiencing.
I want to try and use my time to briefly describe what is happening, building on what David has already said; explain why I think it's happening now; and then say a few words about what might happen to the liberal project after November.
First, as David suggested, one of the best ways to understand where we are today is just to compare where we were in 1993 or so. Communism had collapsed; the Velvet Revolution had taken place; serious people (Frank Fukuyama) had said we'd reached the end of history; Tom Friedman was writing books telling us globalization meant everyone had to put on the "golden straitjacket" and basically become like the United States; the Clinton administration's grand strategy was one of engagement and enlargement, expanding NATO eastward, spreading democracy where it could. This was a period of tremendous optimism.
Today liberalism is under threat on multiple fronts. Roger Cohen of The New York Times writes: "The forces of disintegration are on the march. The foundations of the postwar world are trembling." The World Economic Forum says: "The liberal world order is being challenged by powerful authoritarian movements and anti-liberal fundamentalists." Democracy expert Larry Diamond at Stanford points out that, "Between 2000 and 2015 democracy broke down in 27 countries, and many already authoritarian regimes became even less open and less responsive to their citizens."
Efforts to build stable democracies in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Balkans mostly failed. The Arab Spring quickly turned into an Arab Winter almost everywhere. Britain has now voted to leave the European Union, signaling disenchantment with the most ambitious liberal project in Europe. Turkey, Poland, Hungary, Israel—all headed in illiberal directions. A right-wing party in Germany beat Angela Merkel's coalition in local elections last week. And, not to forget, the Republican Party in the United States has nominated a presidential candidate who openly disdains the tolerance that is central to liberal societies, repeatedly expresses racist beliefs, and cottons to baseless conspiracy theories.
So the question is: What went wrong between 1993 and today? I blame this on several interrelated factors.
The first is that we overpromised what liberalism could deliver. Promoters of the liberal experiment argued that spreading democracy, spreading human rights, spreading open markets, and all of these things would guarantee peace and prosperity everywhere and largely for everyone. But of course that turned out not to be the case.
Just thinking of how the spread of markets works, it creates winners, often far more winners than losers; but it does create some losers, people who do not do well, at least in the short term. As a result, the latter are rarely happy about it and the latter can use the same institutions of democracy to make that discontent known.
To make matters worse, liberal elites in a number of places made some serious policy blunders. My favorite list, apart from the invasion of Iraq in 2003: the creation of the euro in Europe, widely forecast to be a disaster, and proven to be indeed; mismanaging the American economy, leading to the financial crisis of 2008; and then, especially in Europe, overdoing the politics and the policies of austerity after 2008, therefore prolonging the economic crisis.
Third, some liberal states used non-liberal means to try and spread liberal values, with a predictable lack of success. Here the classic example is the Iraq War, but it's also true of the Western interventions in Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, and elsewhere. The key lesson to draw from that is that military force turns out to be a terrible tool for spreading liberal values.
Finally, although liberals are generally supportive of the idea of national self-determination, they failed to appreciate just how persistent and powerful nationalism would be and how these local identities of various kinds would remain even in the midst of the liberal project. The European Union was supposed to transcend nationalism, create a new pan-European identity, where national identities would really only emerge, say, during the European Soccer Cup, or something like that. But it's clear, of course, in 2016 that this did not happen.
The United States failed to appreciate that creating the formal institutions of democracy was not enough to create a liberal society without norms of tolerance and other embedded social values. And again, that's especially true if you try to do that with armed force.
Finally, it turns out that many people in many places care as much about national identities, historical enmity, territorial symbols, traditional cultural values as they do about freedom or as they do about purely economic benefits. Those sentiments, I think, loom especially large when change is very rapid and when mostly homogeneous societies are forced to assimilate people whose backgrounds are different in a very short span of time.
Again, I think we know from American history, which we always extol as the successful melting pot—but we know that in fact there have been many moments of tensions when new arrivals have experienced resistance and that blending cultures within a single polity has never been particularly smooth or simple. When that happens, and especially when it's happening rapidly, it provides grist for populist leaders who promise to defend traditional values or "make the country great again." Nostalgia ain't what it used to be, but it is still a very formidable political motivation.
And then finally, I would place some blame on ruling elites in a number of liberal societies, especially the United States, where the operation of money in our politics and special interests have created—not to be too candid—an essentially corrupt political class that is increasingly out of touch with ordinary people, interested in enriching themselves, and largely immune to accountability. The sense, in short, that the game is rigged in favor of the 1 percent is where a lot of this populist anger comes from, and I think is reflected not just in the Trump campaign but was also reflected in the surprising success of Bernie Sanders on the other end.
Let me just close with a couple of thoughts about what might happen after November.
If Trump wins—and I neither expect nor want that to happen—the liberal order will fray even more. His own commitment to liberal values seems paper thin. He has promised to play "hardball" with a lot of traditional American allies, and he has little knowledge, no experience, and hardly anyone advising him who knows much of anything about foreign policy. In short, a Trump presidency would be a social science experiment of historic proportions [Laughter], and it's one I have no desire to participate in.
Now, if Clinton wins, many people expect her to be a much more enthusiastic liberal interventionist than, say, Barack Obama. Now, it's true she has been pretty hawkish in the past and she has made some boneheaded foreign policy judgments. But let me just go out on a limb and say that I think she may be much more restrained in her conduct of foreign policy and her activist promotion of the liberal agenda than you might think. You'll recall that Bill Clinton, whom I believe she still talks to occasionally, talked big on foreign policy, a very ambitious set of foreign policy goals, but he tried to do it all on the cheap and was very risk-averse about using American military power. Hillary, I think, wants to be a domestic president and a very large, ambitious foreign policy agenda isn't consistent with trying to do a lot of things here at home.
Moreover, if you look around the world, there are hardly any possible interventions, particularly military interventions, that look really promising. Instead, they all look like potential quagmires, and you would have to be a real enthusiastic liberal humanitarian to want to do a lot of them.
And finally, remember that she was a big promoter of the so-called "pivot to Asia" during Obama's first term, and you can't pivot to Asia in a serious way if you are trying to do a lot of nation-building in places like Yemen or Iraq.
So I think Clinton will talk a lot about defending and spreading liberal values, but again, like her husband, she will do it as gingerly as possible.
Now, does that mean that the liberal order will continue to erode? Maybe not, because if you're like me and you think the best way to promote liberal values around the world is to set a really good example here in the United States, then a successful domestic agenda and less military intervention abroad might do a better job of selling the liberal ideal than some of the things we have done over the past 25 years. And, needless to say, I hope I'm right.
Thank you very much.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Thanks, Steve.
It's always a pleasure to be back at Carnegie and to be back in my newest role at the Naval War College, which is I just took over the Jerome E. Levy Chair of Economic Geography and National Security, which has as one of its mandates precisely this question of the liberal order, the trading order, the networks that have been created, and how that may or may not be sustained, which is a great way not only to kick off the year for Carnegie but also for me to have my first official stepping out as the Levy Chair at the Naval War College.
As people who have seen me at these events in the past know, I have to give my quick disclaimer that, since I am a federal employee by day, I am going to speak with my own opinions. I am not giving any government position, Navy position, or Department of Defense position on any particular issue. So if you don't like what I have to say, then bring it up with me and don't send a complaint down to Ash Carter as to why I'm doing what I'm doing here.
Let me begin, if I may, by picking up, I think, on what Steve laid out for us, which is a very important point. He went back to 1993 and he started with that as a starting point. I think that's an important thing to keep in mind, that this is not something that has happened overnight; this is not just a flash in the pan. There are some people who would say, "Well, Brexit happened, but Theresa May will somehow make it disappear," and, "Trump will lose in November, and then all of this goes away and we're fine."
I think we are at a systemic crisis both within the country and in the system as a whole, because the United States itself is now, for the first time in a long time, unsure about its role in the world, unsure about what it wants to do in terms of its resources and what it wants to accomplish. And so I see this election as perhaps being the most momentous election for U.S. foreign policy since the election of 1952, at least the Republican primary of 1952, because the voters may not be that interested in very specific policy details—should we go into Ukraine; what should we do about Syria; what should we do about any list of what the policy wonks like to discuss—but there is a fundamental attitudinal question that this election is putting forward.
We have two candidates for the first time who have very different views about the world, about the type of system that should exist in the world, about the values and norms that that system should operate under, and what should be the guiding principles for the United States. Even if one candidate or the other wins, it does not end this debate. The genie is out of the bottle. We saw it in questions about trade agreements and the very surprising reemergence of trade pacts as an issue in the primaries, both on the Republican and the Democratic side.
So whoever wins—I tend to agree with Steve, I think that the stars are aligning more for Hillary Clinton, although I have a sense that we should not immediately think that Donald Trump is done or finished. We still have 60 days to go. A lot of things can happen in the campaign. We do have to think about the "what if" moment after Election Day and what it might mean.
What we are dealing with is what I and others are terming "there is a narrative collapse". For 70 years or so, 60 years, there was largely a bipartisan consensus on foreign policy. Yes, the parties would disagree about specifics, they would disagree about the tools, they would disagree about emphases, but there was generally a sense that U.S. involvement in the world was good; the United States should be a major contributor and shaper of the global architecture, that it should be willing to invest time, resources, blood, and treasure in maintaining the system.
At the end of the Cold War, we had the first stirrings of this, in 1992, of "Come home, America; disband NATO; the Cold War is over; let's return back to our splendid isolation," with Ross Perot and his campaign and some of the themes he sounded, and Pat Buchanan sounded some of these themes in the Republican Party. But for the most part they didn't gain much traction.
And then you had three post-Cold War presidents—the Clinton presidency, the Bush presidency, and the Obama presidency—that still maintained this commitment to U.S. involvement in the world. That is under threat, and I think Steve gave a great list of mistakes, problems, why voters are beginning to question that. In the United States and elsewhere, there's a sense that—you hear this among voters—"Why are we doing these trade pacts and alliances? What does it benefit the United States?"
There was a narrative in the past that said things like: "You, the average American citizen, benefit from the United States being the global reserve currency; you benefit from free trade, which gives you more goods and services at lower cost; you benefit from these security alliances and from things like the United Nations because those allies and institutions take on burdens that if they weren't there would either fall on the United States or would metastasize into larger problems that would eventually threaten American security." There was also a sense where there was more direct linkage between American involvement elsewhere. It wasn't just simply about altruistic values. There was also a link to concrete benefits.
So, for example, American food aid programs—it wasn't just simply that Americans were generous and wanted to see people not starve in other parts of the world. When we set up our massive food aid program starting in the 1950s, this was not just simply altruism; it was also benefitting American farmers, it was benefitting the American transport companies which had the contracts for that.
When we did things like our national security buildup, the United States did have a way of somewhat escaping the "guns vs. butter" trap. It averages out to about for every dollar of national security spending there was about 60 cents that went back into the U.S. economy in terms of growth. So you could make a case that spending money on NATO and spending money on defense wasn't just simply America being taken advantage of by free riders around the world but that there were concrete benefits. That is breaking down. People don't see those benefits.
The elites—and let me add a further indictment on elite failures—elites have tended not to want to talk about this. So if you go down to Washington and you offer people in the foreign policy community: "We want to send you to the Brussels Forum, the Shanghai Forum, the Yalta Forum," they'll jump at a chance to go overseas. You say, "We want you to go to Peoria, El Paso, to Boise, to talk about why American involvement in the world happens," they're not as interested in that. "I'd rather go to Davos than Dallas. I'd rather go to Marrakesh rather than to Mapleville or Des Moines." That disconnect feeds this narrative collapse and it feeds into the sense of corruption and that America is not looking out for the interests of Americans.
Again, similar things, by the way, in Brexit, just so that we don't ignore the second half of our title. We saw in Britain the Brexit vote very much broke down on a London elite that voted to stay. Scotland, for different reasons, tended to vote for staying in the European Union, also because perhaps if Scotland ends up breaking from the United Kingdom they want to stay in the European Union. But wide swathes of England and Wales said: "We don't benefit from the EU, or at least we don't perceive to benefit. We don't see why we seem to be asked to sacrifice but we don't seem to be gaining benefits."
So this leads into this question of the ethics. I just want to finish up on this topic.
I know that talking about ethics, Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton in the same sentence might appear to be a bit of a contradiction. But when you look at what they are saying about foreign policy and American involvement in the world, there is clearly an ethical choice and it's different sets of ethics.
Hillary Clinton is an heir to a longstanding bipartisan U.S. tradition that says: "America has obligations both to itself but to the world. We have an obligation to maintain a system, even if we don't see immediate benefits from it, because in the long term we benefit from it." There's also a bit of future orientation to it. It is an ethics that is oriented to the present and towards future generations.
If you look at the things that Donald Trump has said about foreign policy, it is very much: "There are citizens and then there's everyone else, and the job of a foreign policy is to benefit the citizens of the country. If you're going to do something for another country, there should be a quid pro quo." So when he has talked about alliances, it's "All right, well we'll protect you; what are you doing for us?" If it's a trade deal, "Well, we'll give you access to our markets; what are you doing for us?" It is very much a balance sheet. It's a 19th-century vision. That's one reason perhaps why he and Vladimir Putin get along so well, they both have 19th-century views of the international system.
It's also one that is very much rooted towards the present. So that, for example, when we saw this debate about West Virginia miners, Donald Trump went in and said: "Look, I don't care if Bangladesh sinks into the sea 50 years from now. My obligation is to put West Virginia miners today to work. That's who I owe my obligation to. I don't owe it to future generations. I don't owe it to non-Americans, unless those non-Americans are doing something for me or for the country."
It's a different ethical vision. It definitely seems to have resonance among a number of swathes of the country.
I don't think it was a slip for Donald Trump yesterday to say, "To the victors go the spoils." There's a lot of Americans who said that after the Gulf War and after the Iraq War: "Well, we expended all this blood and treasure. Why don't we get the oil? Why isn't Kuwait selling oil after 1991 to America for 20 years at $10 a barrel out of gratitude for liberation?"
It's again a 19th-century view of international politics. But it is a view and it has coherence. When we're talking about a liberal order that is forward-looking and when we talk about it being for the 21st century—and this was Frank Fukuyama's issue—it kind of didn't say, "Well, what happens if the 19th century came calling and we wanted to go back to it?" When we look around the world, China, Russia, a lot of countries, look at the 19th-century order and say: "What was wrong with it? Why can't we go back to it?" Not necessarily a liberal order, not necessarily an integrative order, but one that has coherence, one that has its own ethical standards and visions for how to operate policy.
The Brits—52 percent said: "We're turning our back on the European project. This is a 21st-century vision. We like 19th-century splendid isolationism." We'll see what Theresa May does with it.
Americans I think have a similar choice. We are in some ways, for the first time since—why I raised 1952 is that was the last gasp of returning us to our prewar isolationism, turning our back—"NATO, Cold War—no, let's go back." We have that choice in 2016. Do we stick with this order that we have created, sustained, godfathered; or are Americans going to say: "We're done with it, someone else can pay for it, and we're not going to do it anymore; and if someone else doesn't pay for it, so what?"
So we do have, I think, a fundamental choice. No matter who wins the election, though, I think that these are going to be themes that are going to continue. They're not going to disappear. We're going to see them continue, I think, for the foreseeable future in the United States, in Britain. Germany is now wrestling with it. The French elections next year will be another test of this. We'll see what happens in Poland and Hungary and we'll see what happens in other parts of the world.
Steve had an optimistic ending of hope. I'm going to be more of a pessimist and say I endorse a hopeful vision but I'm preparing for a more pessimistic future.
DEVIN STEWART: That's quite an endorsement. Is that an official endorsement?
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: It's not an official endorsement.
DEVIN STEWART: Ten years ago, Nick and I participated in a panel just like this in Washington, DC, called "The World Without the West, the Rise of the Rest"—what are we to make of the emergence of powerful countries in the world, in world politics, and what does that mean for our values? I said, "The Western-led liberal order is still the most attractive thing out there." I said that 10 years ago. I stick by that. I still think that's true.
But that same year, by coincidence, a very scary book was published by Fred Iklé. He was a Reagan official. He wrote this very frightening book with a very scary title, called Annihilation from Within. What do you think he meant by that? Well, he meant—before he passed away, I think he was actually somewhat prophetic in describing the exact threat to liberalism that we see right now today in America. He was describing a future, a not-too-distant future, of a situation like this, and he was talking about countries like the United States. He talked about a country where in response to worries about external threats, in response to worries about terrorism, the possibility would be a "cunning tyrant" would exploit terrorism fears, gain power and the nuclear codes, and assume dictatorial power in a country like the United States. That was 10 years ago.
I think that is a very important thing to think about. Frankly, as a liberal, I feel like liberalism is one of the most peaceful ways that we can prevent that from happening.
So I will just touch on two things that I would like to highlight in Nick's and Steve's great talks here.
Number one, why are we here? I just want to emphasize two things: number one, corruption; and number two, the lack of an organized liberal gang out there making the case.
On point number one, I think what we're seeing, the populist reaction around the world and the threat to liberalism around the world, is basically the result of a cycle of corruption that you see in every state in the world. Over the last 10 or so years, I've conducted thousands of interviews in about 20 countries. What I've seen over and over and over again is that, no matter what the system is—it could be a liberal system; it could be a dictatorship; it could be communist—the people always want the same thing: they want dignity, they want human dignity; they want self-respect; they want self-worth. That's the general people. That means they want access to jobs, they want access to justice, and they want voice and they want choices.
Meanwhile, the powerful, whoever they are, whether they're limousine liberals or communist apparatchiks, or whatever they might be, they simply seek more power and more access to corruption, again and again.
My colleague at our sister institute the Carnegie Endowment—her name is Rachel Kleinfeld—is just about to publish a book on this very topic. I suggest you check it out. [Editor's note: Check out Stewart and Kleinfeld's recent Carnegie Council podcast on this topic.]
So this kind of vicious cycle happens: the powerful seek more power and access to corruption until the public can no longer take it anymore. Look at Brazil; look at Argentina; look at the United States; look at Turkey. These types of situations are happening all around the world. To some degree Myanmar as well. At some point, if there is a credible leader and a coherent movement, an opposition will overthrow the rulers, whoever they are, and soon enough those liberators will become the corrupt oppressors that they were fighting against previously. Our tour of the world ended in South Africa. The African National Congress, the party of Nelson Mandela, just got trounced due to this very problem. And the cycle repeats itself over and over and over again.
So I don't want to give liberals a pass, I won't just say, "Oh, it's the situation," but it's important to remember that human greed and pride are universal. That's a very liberal thing to say by me, right? So there you go, I'm showing my stripes.
Again, just to emphasize, I don't necessarily think it's that the policies, be they the European Union and the euro or Iraq War—remember that the Brexit movie showcased the euro and the European Union generally.
Who has seen the Brexit movie? It was like my homework assignment for myself. It's like an hour-long movie that the pro-Brexit people put together, very slick, very stylish. I'm sure it was full of exaggerations. But the main point was: "Those Eurocrats are corrupt. There's nepotism. There's waste and greed."
Do you guys remember Imperial Life in the Emerald City, written about the Iraq War? Nepotism, incompetence, corruption, waste.
I just think that we should emphasize the importance of doing things well and doing things with accountability. You can have a good policy and do it corruptly. You can have a bad policy and do it well.
The second reason that I think that we're at the state we are in now, very briefly, is that liberal policies generally benefit most people but opposition to them can be fierce and coherent. So opposition to TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) right now is an example.
But you look at free press, which is under attack in Turkey, Japan, Russia, and possibly in the United States pretty soon. Why is that? Well, because free press benefits everyone, and yet there's a very coherent group of people who would rather not have free press. Those are politicians who want to stop unflattering news stories.
The main point here is that the public might not realize or pay attention to the incredible value of liberal policies of freedoms and equality. But those freedoms—freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly—are the very instruments that serve as a nonviolent check against the powerful and the corrupt.
That's why I would urge everyone around the world to remember why we fought for liberal values in World War I, in World War II, in Bosnia, in Vietnam, in Korea—the list goes on and on and on. Why did we do that? We felt it was necessary to shed blood all over the world. And, too, remember that this is a way to advance a more peaceful, accountable society in a peaceful fashion.
I would like to just end by saying I hope we fight for our values at the polls rather than in the streets. Thank you very much.
QUESTION: James Starkman. I enjoyed your discussion very much.
Would you both comment on the contribution of the declining role of the private sector versus the government sector? That trend, how would you assay it in terms of the assault on liberalism?
STEPHEN WALT: First, on this one I'm not sure I'd accept the premise that the private sector has a declining role in public policy. When I consider the role that the private sector plays in funding elections, when I consider the role that the Koch brothers have played in the rise of the Tea Party and in stimulating a variety of movements, I'm not sure that the private sector is as disengaged from our political life. In fact, you could make the argument that one of the problems we're having here in the United States is precisely that the private sector is too actively involved.
And it illustrates the point that Devin was making, that liberal institutions are broadly beneficial to everyone but are narrowly opposed, or specific aspects of them may be narrowly opposed. So I guess I'm not sure I agree with the premise.
QUESTIONER: I was thinking more in terms of the financial and economic sector and the reform of taxes, etc., things of that sort.
STEPHEN WALT: Well, again I would use that, I guess, to illustrate the general point that we had a non-trivial financial event here in the United States and nobody got prosecuted for it, nobody went to jail, no really major reform of the financial system happened as a result of that. Some of the reasons for that may have to do with the fact that politicians in the Senate, in particular, are somewhat dependent upon money from Wall Street and other financial institutions. So there's a connection there, it seems to me, and suggests why we're not getting some of the public policy outcomes that would be broadly beneficial. That feeds into a lot of the points that Devin was making about cycles of corruption.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: I think, taking it from a different perspective, the rise particularly in the industrial democracies of people—maybe this is where you were going with the question, and I think everything Steve said is important on that—but in this direction, which is the increased expectation of the public sector doing more for people, or at least that people having claimed—one of the things that's fascinating about a big slice of the Trump electorate is that they're not libertarians, they're not people saying, "I don't want government spending." It's, "I just want the government to spend more on me as opposed to those other people. But I want a whole raft of goods and services to be provided for me."
What's interesting is then, going back to the classical liberal discussions, the essential autonomy of citizens—that is: "I'm dependent on myself. Yes, government exists to kind of keep a net for me and maybe ensure the level playing field. But if you now have more and more people who expect government is there"—you know, it becomes a tool of "Well, I'm going to vote in the people who are going to give me the goods and services and they're going to take them away from someone else, either other citizens that I don't think are worthy of them or non-citizens who shouldn't be getting them in the first place."
This is what we see with, again, this instinctive opposition now to a lot of the trade deals. It's not that people don't necessarily want goods at low prices; it's the sense of "Who are the winners and who are the losers?" Now, I think, you have in a lot of the polities in the West the sense that "There are winners and losers, and I want to certainly make sure I'm a winner and not being a loser, and I want to use the power of government to keep me a winner or make me a winner and punish those who I think are illegitimate winners and turn them into losers." So it's the ability of government to now control flows.
And again going back to Brexit, all of those farmers in Wales and Southwestern England who were very happy to take EU agricultural assistance are now going to find "Well, who's going to pay those bills?" Now they're saying: "Well, London will pay those bills. The rich financiers in London are going to make up for the aid that we're not going to get from Brussels anymore. Someone is going to pay."
I think that, hearing your question, that's originally kind of what I thought, is increasingly voters saying, "I want to use the power of government to change the allocation of winners and losers" and to punish, really, in a way. In the past, it was you went out and you started, maybe you won, maybe you lost; government was there to make sure you didn't fall into the ditch. But now it's, "I want my share and someone else illegitimately has my share." You really see that.
If anyone read the Guardian piece where they went through Kentucky about interviewing different Trump voters, you really get that sense of "my share—this is money that should be coming to me, and someone else has it and that's not right."
DEVIN STEWART: I think, Nick, of the best-seller Hillbilly Elegy. The characters in that book are basically saying: "Something's not right here. I can't really tell quite what it is. I deserve more."
The irony of this I just wanted to highlight is that I find it kind of ironic, and a little bit offensive I suppose, is that Sanders was calling for socialism, which—we went through this in the Cold War. You know, let's move past socialism.
The other thing is that I find it incredibly ironic and confusing that people want to ask the government to basically allocate more to the losers, more of the "spoils of war," when, for example, increasing taxes on Chinese imports, which Trump is proposing—okay, let me tell you something. Tariffs are taxes. That is not going to get anyone's job back. That is only going to hurt poor people who need Chinese goods.
The irony is that—to me it is still confusing—to believe that government bureaucrats and people who levy taxes are the ones who are going to make everything better, when in fact people building a wall or deporting masses of people or increasing taxes on imports are precisely the people who are in the catbird seat to be corrupt. Supposedly, a lot of this sort of angst today is against perceived corruption, right? I just find it ironic that the policy request is opportunities for more corruption with the government. Maybe that's too subtle. But that's how I see it because I'm a trade guy. I really love that stuff.
QUESTION: I'm Krishen Mehta with the Aspen Institute.
It seems that there are two fundamental threats to liberalism that have not been covered in any of your discussions thus far, and I wonder if you'd like to comment on those.
One is, it seems to me that the proliferation of the right-wing media in the United States over the last 15–20 years—the fact that Fox News is now the most watched television channel, that the right-wing radio and talk shows have sort of overwhelmed the thought waves in this country and have contributed to a significant climate that is counter to liberalism—and it's not like Jon Stewart or Stephen Colbert can counter it. I mean this has become so powerful, and it's likely to continue. I wonder about the impact it has on liberalism, if you can comment on that.
The second thing, externally it seems to me that, with the U.S. military expenditures being more than the aggregate military expenditures of all the rest of the world, this expenditure has to find a home. It's not like we have threats from Canada or Mexico. It's not like Russia has missiles in Canada or Mexico like we have on their borders. So if this military expenditure is going to find homes, it's going to result in interventions that will then create resentment for liberal values that will again compound this issue.
I wonder if you can comment on these two threats, the right-wing media and the colossal military expenditures that then need to find a home that is counter to liberal values.
STEPHEN WALT: This may be the one place where Nikolas and I disagree a little bit, because I see more of a connection between what we have been doing internationally and some of the problems that now result.
As some of you probably know, I'm sort of a big believer in doing a lot less, and, in particular, invading a lot fewer countries. As soon as you say things like that—a piece that John Mearsheimer had in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs on offshore balancing—as soon as you say that, you're immediately labeled an isolationist, that you don't think the United States should engage in the rest of the world, that you want to come back to Fortress America. And then, the next thing you know, people are asking you if you're advising Donald Trump.
The position I would take is: No, the question is not whether the United States is going to be engaged in the world; the question is where and in what fashion and under what circumstances; and that, in particular, as the Founding Fathers understood, if you are constantly fighting wars in various places, you are actually going to threaten civil liberties at home very quickly, you are going to cater to precisely the right-wing media and institutions that you worry about, and you're going to ultimately discredit the same liberal institutions.
You'll suddenly discover you've got an intelligence service that's torturing prisoners—and, by the way, not holding anybody accountable for that—either you'll have massive amounts of government secrecy . . . it just comes with the territory. Again, the Founding Fathers understood that.
So if somebody like me, who wants to protect liberal values here and also promote them more effectively abroad, would like us to do a lot less heavy-handed military interventions, we should not be running around trying to tell people in the Middle East how to run their countries and sending the 82nd Airborne to assist in that.
The one place I might disagree is I don't think it's so much the right-wing media, as it were—and I say that as no fan of Fox News—because, in fact, the consensus since 1993 in favor of a highly interventionist foreign policy has been bipartisan. The only senior member of the Obama administration who opposed the Iraq War in 2003 was Barack Obama. This was Democrats and Republicans alike in favor of the United States getting involved, whether it's in the Balkans or in the Middle East or in a lot of other places.
It was not that this idea got sold to Americans by Fox News. It's that the American foreign policy elite since 1993 has been very enthusiastic about trying to run the world. They want to do it cheaply, they don't want a lot of casualties, they're not going to go into wars that they know are costly in advance, even when they turn out to be. But it's not that Rupert Murdoch and Roger Ailes have suddenly been feeding this idea into the heads of Americans. That idea has been part and parcel of, I think, the American foreign policy establishment for a long time, and after the Soviet Union disappeared, people thought we could do this cheaply. There was all that optimism that several of us have already spoken about.
Anyway, I'll stop there. Those are very good questions.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Just to pick up on that, the idea that the Soviet Union fell and the handcuffs came off, that we could now do the things that the Soviet Union had prevented us from doing. Look, on the question of the military establishment, this is a critical issue, because the United States has all these other tools that it chooses not to use now. We have immense economic tools at our disposal. We used to be very good at economic statecraft. In fact, we weren't isolationist in the 1930s in the way that people think. We simply weren't getting involved militarily. We were very involved economically. We led with banks. We led with companies. We used to be good at that. Then we kind of have lost those tools, we've lost that ability.
Presidents come in and find that they like the military because the military salutes and does what it's told to do. Then it creates this vicious circle of: "Well, no one else—these other tools aren't available, or they're too hard, or we have to pay a cost. So we'll just get the military to do it." Then the military gets funding to do it. Then the other departments and tools are underfunded. So then you say, "Well, now we're going to send the military." It creates this unvirtuous circle where—it's a time-honored adage, it's true—every problem becomes a nail because the only tools you have left are the hammers.
We have to regain a certain sense also about what is possible and what is necessary. One of the things that has been disconcerting is we want change, we want it to happen suddenly, we want it instantaneous; and, of course, we also want it with no cost and no casualties, which is why people glommed onto the drones, because for a while it seemed like this was the great solution to our problems, which was, "Well, we don't have to put boots on the ground and it's technology and we can fly something and it can deliver an impact." And we suddenly discover that, I think, in more recent years that Yemen is not a poster child for the success of the drone policy leading to good outcomes.
And again, why I was saying is that this election isn't—this problem has been building up for years. It's going to take years to work through it. It's going to take the willingness of political leaders to push back on certain things, to stay the drumbeat for an intervention; and for people to say: "No. You may have the best intentions, but it's not going to work. The costs are going to be too great." But it's easy to get overwhelmed.
On the media question, let me go back because I think this touches on something larger. It's easy to say, "Well, if we didn't have Fox and Breitbart in the United States, and if we didn't have the Brexit media in Britain, and if we didn't have the right-wing media in Hungary and Poland—if just somehow that disappeared, this wouldn't be an issue."
The problem is that this comes again back to a fundamental tension in the very idea of liberal democracy, which is that democracy, as the Greek word tells us—it's not "rule of the people," it is "the rule of the demos." I'm going to be pedantic here with the classic Greek. If it was "rule of the people," that would be a laokratia. It's a demokratia. A demos in Greece was a community of people bound together by custom, law, and territory, so the demos of Athens, the demos of Corinth. Now, people could move from the demos—Alcibiades is a good example; [he changed allegiances,] moving from every Greek city and was accepted—or classic Rome. But the idea that: Who belongs in the demos? Are you born into the demos? Do you get to assimilate into the demos? Who is the demos that the power flows from? These are questions that are fundamental.
You can have illiberal answers to that question. You can say: "No, the demos is based on blood; it's based on kinship. If you're not born here, if you're not born of the right families, if you're not born of the right lineages, you're not part of our demos." This is Germany's problem with fourth-generation German Turks, Japan's problem with fourth-generation Koreans. They're not part of the demos of Germany or Japan, even though they have been there 100 years in the case of some of the Koreans.
And we have that question: "Who is the American demos? Is it anyone who crosses and accepts the propositions of the United States is an American?" That has kind of been the mainstream approach. But now we have this older European ethnos-style approach that says, "No, the demos of America is these groups and these people."
So those are things that have to be fought out, and they have to be fought out in the marketplace of ideas. They have to be argued through. You need to address them. If you don't address them in one form, they'll pop up in other areas.
I think because we had—was it the Hallin's dougnhut, the sphere of acceptable topics for the media to cover?—for many years we didn't want to talk about some of these issues. But not talking about them doesn't mean they go away. They sprout up in other forms. So you end up with a Drudge and a Breitbart being the people making these conversations rather than having them be argued out.
But again, back to liberalism surviving, one of the challenges is that in a number of democracies around the world—Germany, Poland, France perhaps, elsewhere—people are questioning "Well, who exactly is the demos?" Everyone who just happens to be within the borders maybe is or is not part of it.
That's a crisis. It's the migration crisis in Europe. It's the debate on immigration in the United States. It's why Poland and Lithuania and Hungary have said, "EU solidarity be damned, we're not going to take migrants in; we're not bound by Angela Merkel opening, making an invitation, which then has an impact on the European project and its solidarity."
I'm sorry. I'm going a little too long, so I'll end on that.
But it's not just "Well, if we got rid of this media outlet, this problem would go away." It's a core issue.
QUESTION: Sondra Stein.
Do you think that part of the explanation of the Trump phenomenon is also the fact of how much manufacturing we've lost and technology? Robots are coming, artificial intelligence. And not everyone can form a Facebook company. So can we really as a society provide adequate jobs for all the people? I think for me that's part of the reason of this Trump phenomenon. And going forward, I think it will be even a bigger problem as technology increases so much.
I know it's late, but if I could just ask you about ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), because when you talked about how we shouldn't be involved, I just couldn't resist. Maybe later.
STEPHEN WALT: I'll say that yes, I think you're right, part of the Trump phenomenon is—and we see this in all the poll results and voting results—a segment of the American population, middle-class or working-class, that in the 1950s would have been working at GM or something like that and isn't. But that doesn't explain the entire phenomenon, it seems to me. There's some part of it there.
But we are an increasingly service-oriented economy. That has, I think, implications for how we educate people, which we have not responded particularly well to. And we're not going to recover by going back to making Buicks just in Detroit. That's not the way modern industrial economies, including ours, work.
On the question of ISIS, we could do a whole session on that. I will just say that the danger ISIS poses to us is actually quite small. I think it falls below the level of a vital national interest, and the problem that ISIS poses for the region can only be solved by the creation of effective political institutions in that area, which is not something that we are going to be able to do, no matter how much we try to inject our goodwill or our military or our drones.
So we may have a role to play, but it ought to be a supporting role, a sort of backseat role, which I think has been what the Obama administration has been trying to do. And certainly, it is not the kind of existential threat that has been portrayed by some in the media and even some government officials.
QUESTION: Thank you. Eric Magnuson from the Fletcher School. I have two questions, and it's two different themes that I want to try to weave together.
The first goes back to what you had mentioned in terms of corruption. I think it's tough to compare, say, the United States versus Argentina, Chile, Peru—even the United Kingdom doesn't have a codified First Amendment, to my knowledge—where you have three institutions that were set up: you had the Fourth Estate—and without Fox News there's a word for that; it's tyranny—so you can't eliminate that. And then you have the federalist system, where you have 50 different states that are meant to replicate—so it's hard to break the system because it's intentionally designed to avoid corruption, avoid concentrating power. And yet, it seems we've gotten to the place where we are Argentina, we are Brazil.
That brings me to my second point, which is—you didn't use this term, but it feels very much like it's an "us against them" mentality, and that's both domestically and abroad. Who "us" is and who "them" is is an open question. And there's a sense of victimhood, which is why, "I want to get what I want to get from the U.S. government."
When did that come together, and are they related in the sense that we've broken down these institutions we've created intentionally to avoid this problem?
DEVIN STEWART: The way I understood you was you were saying: "Here we are. Look at us. Oh my god, we're where we are. We are Brazil despite that system."
I would say the area of my expertise is Japan. Japan is one of the most lawful societies in the world. Like I mentioned, there's a decline in press freedom there. In its most recent two disasters—the real big one was in March 2011, the tsunami and earthquake—the general view there was that the failure to respond, and the creation of the nuclear crisis in the first place, was due to corruption and collusion between industry and the government regulators and the people operating the plants.
Now here we are, coming up to the Olympics, and preventing corruption and scandals is probably mission number one for the new governor of Tokyo, who happens to be the first woman elected to that position, due to several corruption scandals that have plagued the Olympics so far.
So I will just say that when we started our world tour of interviewing people, we had to sort of finesse before we went to Brazil, before we went to Argentina, before we went to South Africa, before we went to Los Angeles and Queens (New York) and other places. We had to say: "We're not asking you about corruption because it's particular to your location. It happens to be a universal problem." And I think that our research has shown that.
STEPHEN WALT: I'm just going to be provocative and say I take my job to mostly be critical, to see things that are wrong and complain about them.
But if we'd gone back to January 1, 2009, say, the very end of the Bush administration, and said, "Look, I'm going to tell you what America is going to look like in 2016—unemployment is going to be around 5 percent, the Dow is going to be higher than it has ever been, no second 9/11 or anything even remotely like it has happened in the United States, fewer Americans are dying overseas; and the budget, which has gone way up to deal with the financial crisis, is now going to look better, it has been cut substantially—do you like that America in 2016 or not?" Most of us in January, 2009, Republicans or Democrats, would have said, "If you can give me that in 2016, I'll be a very happy person."
That's what we've got. Now, it's not to say that we don't have problems and couldn't have done better in a variety of ways. But that's not Argentina and that's not Brazil.
QUESTIONER: The unemployment rate is a bad statistic. Labor force participation is at a 30-year low and you have 12 million people probably underemployed in this country.
STEPHEN WALT: I don't deny any of that. All I'm saying is that we again, myself included, are willing to be critical. But occasionally we've got to step back and say: "Wait a second. This is way different than what Argentina is going through. This is not Putin's Russia, whose economy has been largely in freefall. This is not Europe, which has been largely stagnant. Certainly we have a lot of things actually that aren't working terribly in this country and we want to keep it that way."
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: My only cautionary note is we've seen a massive expansion of executive power at the federal level, abetted by both Republicans and Democrats who were happy when it was their own people doing it. And again, if we think that Trump has even just a 35–40 percent chance of winning, think about the expansion of the executive power of the president over the last 16 years—kill lists, signing statements, executive agreements, executive orders—and then think about the checks and balances. When they were an encumbrance, people said, "Let's get through them." And now we have the reality of someone who's more than happy to take that set of executive tools that both President Bush and President Obama have.
They've set the table, and we have to hope the American electorate doesn't sit Trump down for dinner, because he will be a very different chief executive. He will have tools that previous chief executives, even in the Cold War, didn't quite have at their disposal. So again, my pessimistic note.
QUESTION: Hi. My name is Fabio Krishna Pereira. I'm an alumni of Bates and SIPA and an LLM candidate at Birkbeck, University of London.
I have two questions related to the Brexit. First, what do you think the immediate consequences of Brexit are going to be for Britain when Article 50 is invoked sometime next year?
Second of all, there was an article today about the European Union basically putting together its own rapid reaction force and its development of a sort of EU army. Within the context of declining liberalism, I'd love to know what you think this means for the European Union, considering that there is a total lack of democracy at the top of the European Union in terms of the euro group, in terms of the European Parliament not having any actual legislative power, and in terms of the European Commission.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: Briefly on Brexit, first of all the Brits have to invoke it, and then both the Brits and the rest of the European Union countries—they can prolong this process or they can make it quick. We have no idea. We're really in uncharted waters and we don't know how it's going to play out.
What happens when the EU funds start to—that question, is there going to be trade preferences for the European Union; the question of EU citizens living in Britain now, are they grandfathered in; and then, of course, all the Brits that like to live elsewhere in Europe. A lot of uncharted issues. I think it's going to be difficult to predict.
On the EU rapid reaction force, David, we've seen—is it 20 years now?—these different proposals. An old chestnut. And again, we're back to questions of: who's going to pay for it; what's it going it do? It's a great idea. Everyone endorses it and then everyone says, "Well, someone else will pay for it in Europe."
The interesting thing about the European Union is we have reached the point where Germany—and for years it was "Well, Germany will pay for it"—and the Germans have reached their point where they're not willing to pay anymore. So who's going to pay for it—the Greeks, the Portuguese, Latvians? Where is the money going to come from? If the Brits aren't in it, the French certainly aren't going to pay for it. So it's a great thing in theory, but until you see people putting real euros and real units . . .
STEPHEN WALT: I don't think anybody knows exactly what the implications for Brexit are ultimately going to be, either economically or politically because, in part, we don't know what deal England or the United Kingdom will eventually reach with the European Union.
I do think it's pretty clear that the continental part of this negotiation wants to make sure that there is some price, because if you make this essentially cost-free, then you worry about other members of the European Union starting to want to negotiate deals for themselves. So I think there's going to be some cost for the Brits for having done this. But, on the other hand, people in Europe don't necessarily want to make that cost so enormous that it then causes themselves economic harm. So I think we are kind of in uncharted waters and it's not clear.
My own instinct is it's actually not going to be as economically costly as the "anti-" case made it sound, that they will find ways. Britain will continue to trade with the continent and do it in a variety of ways. There is going to be a bumpy process getting there, but it's not going to be absolutely catastrophic.
On the rapid reaction force, I agree with you. We've seen this movie many times. What may be slightly different is most of the time in the past the United States was also opposed to this idea because we wanted NATO to be the institution that ran European security because we ran NATO. You can now see at least the outlines of a possibility of more Americans saying: "No, Europeans should be responsible for their own security. We should not be protecting them. It's a continent of 550 million people. It's got a $16 trillion economy combined. If it can't defend itself against a Russia that spends 25 percent of what Europe spends on defense every year"—understand Europe, not us, spends four times more than Russia every year, and yet, if somebody sneezes on the Latvian border, they want an American there.
Well, if you get more Americans saying, "We think the Europeans should organize their own defense a bit more effectively," you remove the American opposition, then you might get the Europeans to actually do something.
But there will be lots of insistence on national sovereignty. There will not be, I think, integrated pooling of decision-making. So even if you get a rapid reaction force, that force may be able to move rapidly, but the political decision-making to order it to move is likely to be very cumbersome.
QUESTION: Good evening. I'm a junior at Georgetown and I'm taking a year off to be in New York City. I'll just direct my question to Professor Walt.
I want to bring China into the picture because it seems like liberalism is very much influenced by American values. But if you define liberalism as economic interdependence and also strengthening of international institutions, you will argue that China's foreign policy is also very liberal because you can see that with the Silk Road initiative, it develops the Third World and also encourages a lot of very regional cooperation.
How much do you think the current failure of liberalism is based on values that American exceptionalism imposes on it; and, if so, how do you see liberalism develop to account for American domestic evolution of values and also international evolution of values?
STEPHEN WALT: Great question. They're teaching you well at Georgetown.
As the question implied, there are several different strands to liberal thinking, particularly in international affairs: the strand that we think of as sort of democracy—human rights, individual freedom, liberties on that side; the idea of open markets, competitive markets in various ways; and then this idea that interaction between states should be regulated by a set of institutions as well. They overlap to some degree, but they are not identical, and you can have some of them without having all of them.
So in the Chinese case, the first strand is deficient or pretty weak, and that has, of course, been the one that the United States has sometimes pushed fairly hard. But these are all sort of ideal types, right? We don't have perfectly competitive, free, open markets; we don't have perfectly effective international institutions; and we all compromise individual rights in various ways.
How this is going to play itself out over time? I think the thing I'm most struck with now is how Frank Fukuyama was absolutely wrong. There isn't a "one size fits all" model. There has never been a "one size fits all" model of democracy. There were significant variations within Marxism-Leninism as practiced in different communist countries that local identities, the local path dependence, individual traditions play themselves out. Any country that thinks it's got the perfect solution that others are going to adopt whole cloth is wrong. They're not going to. And even if some country did, it would then evolve in its own direction as well.
I think as long as we have a system of independent states—and I think that is going to be around for a long, long time—the forms in which liberalism applies in different parts of the world are going to vary an awful lot. One can try to nudge them in particular ways, but we ought to be appropriately humble about our ability to transmit them in toto anyplace else.
QUESTION: Thank you. First, let me thank you all for being here tonight, especially our men and women in the armed services. My name is Austin Schiano. I'm a United Nations professional. I guess my question goes to Professor Walt.
If we're looking at the sort of enhancement of maybe a liberal political leadership, do we think that that will have any effect on the domestic security concerns of the United States, and do we see the empowerment of violent nationalist groups in response to the migrants, or with something like the IRA (Irish Republic Army) emerging again in Europe in response to the Brexit—I mean sort of theorizing that, do you see anything like that as a potential?
STEPHEN WALT: You know, I suppose it's possible. Are you talking about domestic groups in the United States?
QUESTIONER: I guess globally, domestic groups in countries.
STEPHEN WALT: Well, we've I think seen over the last 20–30 years the emergence in a variety of places of what we now refer to as violent extremism, much of it centered around the Middle East but hardly confined there.
One of the interesting features is that has had almost no real resonance here in the United States. We just haven't seen that get rolling. We have our own violent extremists of different sorts, but it has tended not to be transmitted from the Middle East. It's either indigenous organizations of one kind of another which have cropped up at various points in our history; or the most obvious thing, which is the fact that we have a lot of people dying from guns here in American cities. We worry a lot about ISIS, but the danger that Americans face is primarily domestic and it's primarily from domestic crime in that form, non-political violent extremism.
So I may be overly sanguine here, but I'm not worried about that happening here, at least not any time soon, even if of course the election is stolen in November, as some have darkly hinted it might be.
I was joking, by the way. [Laughter]
QUESTION: Thank you. My name is Ron Berenbeim. I'll direct this to anyone who wants to answer this.
In consolidating the Brexit and the Trump discussion, it seems, at least to me, that there was one word I think I would have heard had we only been talking about the Trump phenomenon that we did not hear, and that word is "race." When you describe the Trumpistas as having a lot of antagonism towards the elites, which is undeniably true, they also have it against, or many of them do—they would certainly deny it—against people of other races and the fact that these people may be getting a larger share of the welfare pie than they are. That's the intellectual way of putting it. They may just have a visceral reaction to these people.
So I'd like to hear from anyone who wants to address that.
NIKOLAS GVOSDEV: It goes back to this question of, in a democracy who do you perceive of as your fellow citizens and who are the people who owe you duties and you are owed in return?
When you look at our founding documents and you look at the Naturalization Act of 1790, it's a racist document. It's very clear about who can join the American demos. It says "white immigrants of good character"—1790. You can look it up.
So if that's your thinking—so that's 18th century, not 19th century—if that's your golden standard, well, then you say, "Everything that has happened since then is illegitimate. We've let people join the American demos that shouldn't be there." That may be some of what we're seeing driving today.
It's certainly what's driving the rise of these new parties in Europe—"You don't belong here. Whether you should go back to the Middle East, go back to Ukraine, go back to North Africa, we don't owe you things here."
And again, tying it back to liberalism in the end, back to Steve's original point, liberal systems have winners and losers. What's the obligation of the winners to take care of the losers in any society? Brexit was fueled in part by people believing that the people who owed them, their fellow British citizens in London, to a point owed them, and they were being neglected. That may not turn out to be economically the case when you crunch the numbers, and we've heard that a bit now when you've got the question about unemployment and how does the economy look from the macro level.
But we are grappling with these issues. Things that I think we thought were solved once and for all in the West, in the United States, in Europe—that these questions were done with after World War II and after the Civil Rights Movement—I think we're discovering, much to our regret and chagrin, that enough people are saying: "Nope, these questions aren't settled. I don't like the answer I got in 1964 or 1948 and I want to go back and revisit it."
That's why these elections—why Brexit was consequential, why this election is going to be consequential, and the subsequent midterm elections—will be consequential for answering these questions, and why I'm more of a pessimist.
STEPHEN WALT: I'd just add very quickly there's no question that the race card in various ways has been part of what Trump has tried to play—worrying about Mexicans, things like that.
This is a long-term loser as a political strategy, assuming the Fred Iklé nightmare scenario of the clever tyrant doesn't play itself out. It's a long-term loser, which the rest of the Republican Party now understands. The great fear is that Trump will so poison the Republican brand that non-white Americans, who are an increasingly large percentage of our population, are going to be turned off the Republican Party for decades to come, or at least several election cycles.
So this is worrisome in 2016, but you could argue that there's a good-news story: If he loses badly enough and it has significant enough effects on other parts of the ticket, then it actually drives the Republican Party into a different position than it has taken for the last 20 years or so.
DAVID SPEEDIE: You know, there are so many takeaways from this session.
I'll say very briefly that Nick's use of the idea of questioning things leads to this thought: We are in the process—and what's making this so complex—of questioning received assumptions, questioning received beliefs, and questioning received commitments. We're questioning—and by the way, this is not just confined to the United States, but I think it's present here—questioning the received assumptions on foreign policy priorities, that U.S. involvement was per se a "good thing," to quote that other great historical document, 1066 and all that. That's an interest and a values question, I would say. It's based on values and interest.
We're questioning, as Devin said, the received belief in the faithful and effective delivery by the political elites for the public good, and accountability, transparency, and corruption all come into that.
And we're questioning received commitments—NATO. It wasn't really gone into in great detail here, but we were talking earlier. It's not just Trump who's talking about alliances. Bob Gates went to Brussels when he stepped down as secretary of defense and read the riot act. That speaks to the question that Steve raised at the end, that maybe some Americans will say, "It's time for the European Union to step up to their own plate."
On that—optimistic? pessimistic? I don't know—note, I want to thank our three terrific panelists.
See also Nikolas Gvosdev's short codicil to this talk, "Pessimism and the Liberal Order."