“Now on the street tonight the lights grow dim/The walls of my room are closing in/There’s a war outside still raging/You say it ain’t ours anymore to win/I want to sleep beneath/Peaceful skies in my lover’s bed/With a wide open country in my eyes/And these romantic dreams in my head” – Bruce Springsteen, No Surrender
Dear Mr President-Elect,
This isn’t going to be easy for either of us.
For me specifically, I am offering advice to a man I deeply distrust with the running of my country, as I don’t think you understand that the Constitution is neither an abstraction, or something for your lawyers to manoeuvre around. Instead, it is the reason for American exceptionalism, the single greatest source of glue binding our far-flung and restless country together.
Moving forward, if you in any way traduce the bedrock of the oldest major constitutional republic in the world, you will find me your unyielding, implacable enemy.
However, I admit to being much impressed by the dignity that both you and President Obama displayed at your meeting, the sense that, despite your deep differences, you were prepared to help each other because you were both Americans first, and partisans second. There has been much too little of that sentiment on both sides during the fraught election just behind us, so I hope to follow your example and to offer foreign policy advice based on your Jacksonian nationalist views to help our country find its rightful place in the new era.
There is a last reason I want to help. Unlike anyone I can remember, you connected with the Springsteen Democrats of the Upper Mid-West, dramatically over-turning decades of Democratic dominance in states like Michigan and Wisconsin.
Perhaps it comes from the days when you worked on your father’s construction crews, but you seemed to understand – and more importantly, to genuinely like – the high-school educated, white lower-middle class that has been utterly forgotten about in Washington for the whole of my adult life. I grew up with these people in Ohio, I have always valued and loved them, and your embrace of them gives me some hope their muted cries for help will at last be heard.
So what to do in foreign affairs? Quite strikingly, the US of today finds itself in precisely the same structural position as the Britain of the late Victorian era, when the great statesman Lord Salisbury bravely constructed a foreign policy that set in motion the salvation of the British Empire for another 50 years and saved London in the pivotal year of 1918 – after Salisbury himself was long dead – when Britain’s cultivated American and Japanese allies rode to its rescue.
The similarities are haunting. Then Britain was first among equals in terms of global power, being easily the most powerful country in the world, even though it was in relative decline as other emerging powers (Germany, the US, Japan) were gaining on it year-on-year.
Britain was the economic centre of the world, and given its pre-eminent navy the only country that was a power in every region. Also, Britain had a preponderance of the planet’s soft power, the cultural heft that meant its views resounded globally. So the paradox was that Britain was the most powerful country, but was in decided relative decline as others from a lower base gained on it. That is the exact position America finds itself in today.
Salisbury had the insight and the guts to accept the world he lived in, and to craft a policy furthering British nationalism. First, he intellectually made a crusade of rousing the arrogant and out of touch foreign policy elite of his day, angrily and acutely pointing out that decades of easy British dominance had given way to a complex world of many powers.
Second, Salisbury didn’t waste time, energy, and power worrying about what other countries were doing in their internal affairs, as this was counter-productive and he didn’t want London “to be pointed out as the busybody of Christendom”. Instead, he clearly saw his only imperative was to focus like a laser-beam on a Britain-First strategy of securing the country’s place in this rapidly changing world.
Third, Salisbury set out to engage these rising regional powers (in your case China, Russia, and emerging democratic countries such as India, South Africa, Brazil, Argentina, Indonesia, and, yes, Mexico), making them stakeholders in the British-inspired world order. With such allies Britain could do relatively less, all the while safeguarding global security.
Fourth, Britain functioned in regional power configurations around the globe as an off-shore balancer, staying out of day-to-day regional power struggles, instead serving as strategic life insurance, seeing to it that no regional power grew so emboldened as to overturn the general balance of power in either Europe or Asia.
Mr President-Elect, these few successful nationalist principles from a very successful foreign policy of a bygone era will serve you very well in our own time, as it so closely hews to that late Victorian world. I hope you adopt Salisbury’s foreign policy, and do your best, both for the country as a whole, and for the Springsteen Democrats we both care about.
No retreat, No Surrender.
Dr John C Hulsman