By Max Furigay
News Section Editor
Historians call the last seventy years or so—the time period following World War Two up until the modern era—the Long Peace. Despite what one may hear on a cable network with a twenty-four-hour news cycle or through the increasingly entertainment-driven American news sources, there has been a notable lack of direct military conflict between any major states since World War Two. Diplomatic alternatives to war in a globalized world, coupled with exponential gains in technology, have had untold benefits to humankind. Average global life expectancy has doubled from 35 years to almost 71 since 1940, while the number of people living in absolute poverty has fallen by 33%, even as our population increased by 250%. The rate of deaths due to war per capita is the lowest it has ever been in modern human history, while terrorism, genocide, and murder rates are similarly low. Things have gotten much, much better over the last seventy years, as the world has become increasingly globalized, connected, and collaborative. But over the last year or so, it seems that the Long Peace is becoming increasingly fragile, as cracks begin to appear that may be symptomatic of something much worse than the relatively minor unrest that has occurred during this time period.
The elephant in the room is, as usual, Donald Trump. Already, Trump has again and again proven that he is very much against any sort of international cooperation (or even, in some cases, mere diplomacy). He champions a form of xenophobic nationalism that stretches way beyond isolationism. To say nothing of his bluster about border walls, deportation forces, and Muslim bans, his xenophobia manifests itself in much subtler ways as well. For example, Trump wants to eliminate the entire J1 student work/travel visa, a longtime visa granted for international students to travel and work in America for a summer (and one of my personal favorite visa programs, as someone who lives on Cape Cod during the summer). He wants to impose massive trade tariffs on all of our major trade partners. He opposes TPP and NAFTA. In short, Trump sees other nations, other religions, and other cultures as enemies.
He champions separation from the rest of the world, yet doesn’t understand how harmful the breakdown of global unity could be. It is only because of our connected world that Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant, was able to start Apple. Global cooperation fuels scientific discoveries, from CERN to the ISS. Globalization has allowed us to enjoy German cars while wearing Italian clothes and eating chocolate grown in Peru and made in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Our universities, and the universities of untold other nations, have benefited from the sharing of ideas and cultures and worldviews—all products of globalization. But Trump would rather close himself, and America, off from all of these other ideas on a platform of “America First!” And with this breakdown of connectedness that his brand of militant nationalism brings, I worry so will the diplomacy that has facilitated the Long Peace thus far.
The main problem isn’t that Trump is peddling such nonsense, however. The problem is that we are buying into it. Between 38 and 43 percent of Americans support his policies, however reservedly. It’s not just because of party politics: ideas like Trump’s massive tariffs and his vision for a much larger government (because someone’s got to deport those illegals, right?) are markedly un-Republican. Yet a vast majority, perhaps even a plurality, of Americans support his anti-globalization tirade.
It is not just America that is falling prey to this attitude. Just look at the successful Brexit vote in the (significantly less) United Kingdom, spurred by demagogues like Nigel Farage with his misinformation campaign against immigrants, globalization, and those deemed “un-British.” Just look at the burkini bans and other prohibitions of self-expression found in France under the guise of their militant secularism policies. Look at the segregated schools in Germany, with Turkish immigrants only permitted in the lowest levels of German schooling, while the gymnasiums (the highest level of German high schools) reserved only for those of German descent. The crusade against those who are different colors or practice different faiths is not isolated, and this worries me deeply.
America, along with much else of Western civilization, is at a crossroads, where citizens are choosing between a united world and a divided one. But we need connectivity. Not only does it allow us to fully utilize our human capital globally, it also prevents disaster. How would nationalist, xenophobic, swaggering President Trump have handled the Iran Hostage Crisis? Or the Cuban Missile Crisis? I suspect with much more violence than necessary. The traditional paradigm of liberals versus conservatives is breaking down, and in a few weeks, the choice won’t really be left versus right anymore. It will be a referendum on America’s place in (or separate from) the rest of the world. We cannot afford to make the wrong choice.