World leaders laughed at President Trump when he took credit for America’s global leadership during his speech at the United Nations on Tuesday. But we will see who has the last laugh.

Maybe laughter was needed to cut the tension. The UN doesn’t usually hear from leaders who strike such a nationalistic tone. Well, not unless they are Third World dictators bragging about the achievements of their basket-case countries. But a U.S. president isn’t supposed to say so many good things about America in the halls of the UN. It simply isn’t done.

Unlike previous presidents, Mr. Trump sees nationalism as a stabilizing force. He rejects the idealistic establishment view of globalism as a unifying force for good, the kumbaya notion that a peaceful and prosperous world is best maintained by a massive bureaucracy with global reach and nonexistent borders. President Trump's view is much more in line with traditional foreign policy realism. “We believe that when nations respect the rights of their neighbors,” he said, “and defend the interests of their people, they can better work together to secure the blessings of safety, prosperity, and peace.”

President Trump boosted the U.S. in his speech, but his sense of nationalism isn’t limited to America, nor is it knee-jerk nativism. He acknowledged “the right of every nation in this room to pursue its own customs, beliefs, and traditions.” For President Trump, these differences are a source of strength, and are only the business of each country and its people. “The United States will not tell you how to live or work or worship,” he said. “We only ask that you honor our sovereignty in return.”

President Trump delivered a determined defense of the traditional sovereign state. Whether it was reiterating the right to impose tariffs as a tool for negotiating fair trade agreements, dismissing the Global Compact on Migration, or rejecting surrendering American sovereignty to the International Criminal Court, the message was the same: “America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination.”

To Mr. Trump, nationalism is also the fundamental basis for democratic freedom. “Sovereign and independent nations,” he said, “are the only vehicle where freedom has ever survived, democracy has ever endured, or peace has ever prospered.” Love of country ensures that people preserve the freedoms they have, for themselves and their posterity. Americans “prize the culture that sustains our liberty -– a culture built on strong families, deep faith, and fierce independence.” These are traditional American values, but they are not limited to the United States. Wherever they are found, a country thrives; and lacking them, freedom is impossible.
  Nationalism in this view is not only a basis for stability and self-rule, but also the driving force for creativity and change. He noted the love of country that exists (or should) in each nation, the “passion that burns in the hearts of patriots and the souls of nations has inspired reform and revolution, sacrifice and selflessness, scientific breakthroughs, and magnificent works of art.” He said that “our task is not to erase it, but to embrace it. To build with it. To draw on its ancient wisdom. And to find within it the will to make our nations greater, our regions safer, and the world better.”

The mainstream press roundly mocked Mr. Trump’s remarks, focusing on the cool reception from many foreign leaders, and what critics saw as the same old deplorable America First message. But looking back over previous Trump speeches, such as his address to a joint session of Congress in February 2017, or his speech in Poland in the summer of 2017, we see the development of a consistent and sophisticated vision of a global order based on sovereign states pursuing their self-interests, cooperating when it benefits them, competing when they can, and maintaining their distinct identities free of globalist interference.

In this vision the United States plays a key leadership role based on history, circumstances, and the enduring principle of peace through strength. A free, prosperous and stable world is better guaranteed by American power than UN resolutions. Globalists can chortle at that idea, but only nervously. After all, they need us more than we need them.

James S. Robbins is the author of Erasing America: Losing Our Future by Destroying Our Past (Regnery, 2018).


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