We keep hearing it from the President’s Twitter account: “Make America great again! America first!”
The phrases are well-worn at this point, having been pounded into our heads since the summer of 2015, when Donald Trump first announced his candidacy in a speech replete with protectionist dogwhistles. At their core? A zero-sum vision of the world where every winner assumes the existence of loser, where companies ought to be punished for acting internationally instead of parochially, where our horizons ought to grow narrower and narrower with time.
It’s a situation we all need to cope with; the world has changed in ways very few people would have imagined just a year ago. Decade after decade of internationalization, following from the end of the Second World War, feels as though it’s ground to a halt, and the world feels very different than it did only a year ago. The first nativist shock to hit the West – the unexpected success of Brexit in 2016 – was rapidly followed by the accession of Donald Trump, of all people, to the most powerful office in the world, where protectionism and a go-it-alone mentality have become the norm (insofar as norms still exist in 2017). In such an environment, the souring of public sentiment against globalization cuts both left and right, though for wildly different reasons, and a retreat from the global marketplace is understandable, perhaps even easy.
But that’s exactly the wrong approach; globalization may be slowing, but it hasn’t quite ground to a halt. Popular attitudes would have you believe that all companies were operating on massive international scales, moving jobs and money across borders with utter ease; popular attitudes would also have you believe that our latter-day retreat from the world stage means that globalization is over. In fact, neither is true; not even the Great Depression shuttered international trade. A bump in the road is not the same as slamming on the breaks, and while we’ve learned – the hard way – that the trajectory of world history does not tend inexorably toward flat, accessible global markets, we are still moving in that direction, all things considered.