Trump’s anti-Ukraine view dates to the 1930s. America rejected it then. Will we now?

Trump’s anti-Ukraine view dates to the 1930s. America rejected it then. Will we now?

Robert Kagan writes:

Can Republicans really be returning to a 1930s worldview in our 21st-century world? The answer is yes. Trump’s Republican Party wants to take the United States back to the triad of interwar conservatism: high tariffs, anti-immigrant xenophobia, isolationism. According to Russ Vought, who is often touted as Trump’s likely chief of staff in a second term, it is precisely this “older definition of conservatism,” the conservatism of the interwar years, that they hope to impose on the nation when Trump regains power.

So it’s time to take a closer look at the 1930s conservative mentality and the America First movement it spawned.

Republican anti-interventionism of those interwar years — “isolationism” as critics called it — was less a carefully considered strategic doctrine than an extension of their battles against domestic opponents. Yes, there were self-proclaimed “realists” in the late 1930s assuring everyone that the United States was invulnerable and that events in Asia, where Japan was also on the rampage, and Europe need not endanger American security. Those “realists” chided their fellow Americans for a “giddy” moralism and emotionalism in response to Nazi and Japanese aggression that prevented them from dealing “with the world as it is,” as historian Charles Beard put it. George F. Kennan, an anti-liberal conservative who served in the American Embassy in Prague, at the time applauded the Munich settlement and praised the Czechs for eschewing the “romantic” course of resistance in favor of the “humiliating but truly heroic one of realism.”

This “realism” meshed well with anti-interventionism. Americans had to respect “the right of an able and virile nation [i.e. Nazi Germany] to expand,” aviator Charles Lindbergh argued. The leading Republican of his day, Ohio Sen. Robert Taft, ridiculed those who expressed fears of advancing fascism. The United States could not be ranging “over the world like a knight errant,” protecting “democracy and ideals of good faith” and tilting, “like Don Quixote, against the windmills of fascism.” The world was “big enough to contain all kinds of different ways of life.”

It was not fascism that conservative Republicans worried about. It was communism. For them, the foreign policy battle in the interwar years was but a subset of their larger war against Franklin D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, which Republicans insisted disguised an attempt to bring communism to the United States. Conservatives in both the United States and Great Britain had long seen Hitler and Mussolini as bulwarks against the spread of communism in Germany and elsewhere. [Continue reading…]

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