A review of Adom Getachew’s Worldmaking after Empire: The Rise and Fall of Self-Determination (Princeton University Press, 2019).
By Alden Young
As the century drew to a close, elites believed themselves to be at the end of history. Many American foreign policy elites had taken for granted the United States’ commitment to economic globalization. From the Clinton era onwards, Democratic Party elites frequently suggested that globalization was an inevitable, irreversible, and ultimately beneficial process. According to Bill Clinton, the championing of globalization was one of the United States’ greatest achievements during the decades since 1945, and while a few rough edges remained, globalization was an unambiguous good for the United States and for the developing world. These narratives about the success of the American project help to explain the shock and outrage that policy wonks expressed when President Trump abruptly reversed course and suggested that globalization was a scam, a project crafted by corrupt elites and designed to rob hard-working Americans of their livelihoods.
Perhaps Trump’s greatest heresy, in the eyes of the liberal orthodoxy of globalization, was his suggestion that the United States adopt industrial policy in the name of national security and unilaterally use tariffs to seek to preserve and expand America’s economic advantages while arguing that the international market was something that an American president could seek to shape rather than prepare his country’s workforce to adjust to. Crude as his articulation was, it made an explicit claim that markets did not naturally stand apart from politics, but were actively created and shaped by political action.