Only rarely does water flow uphill, do clocks run backwards, or does hell freeze over. And it’s even more rare when an MSM-er doesn’t trash Donald Trump.
Michael Hirsh is a certifiably blue-chip establishment journalist: His resume includes stints at Newsweek and National Journal, and he is now the national editor at Politico.
And yet, on May 5, even as most of the MSM was busy flailing away, as usual, at Trump, Hirsh raised eyebrows when he published a provocative article headlined, “Why George Washington Would Have Agreed With Donald Trump/ Watch Out, Hillary: The Founding Fathers would have loved ‘America First,’ and they might have been right.”
Hirsh’s story was mostly a discussion of Trump’s foreign policy, and it must be said that he was, shall we say, judicious in his actual personal praise for Trump. Yet at the same time, Hirsh afforded Trump — and, as we shall see, Trump advisers — plenty of pixels to make their argument. And the result was a piece that ended up displaying more than a little sympathy for the Trumpian worldview.
Deploying a broad-gauge historical perspective, Hirsh put Trump’s campaign — notably, his April 27 speech to the Center for the National Interest in DC — into useful context:
Trump is also correct in suggesting that the current global system is an aberration in American history, that it may not be sustainable forever under current conditions, and that America should focus more on fixing our own economic house for a long time to come (a view shared, incidentally, by Barack Obama, who loves to say “it’s time to focus on nation-building at home”). The U.S. share of global defense spending has soared to more than a third of the total, while the American economy has dropped in size to one-quarter of global GDP; America spends more in total than the next seven largest countries combined: China, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Britain, India, France and Japan. And to what end exactly? No one can quite say.
Yes, that is a good question to ask about our far-flung commitments: To what end exactly? And since it’s the American taxpayers — as well as their sons and daughters in uniform — who are bearing the burden of internationalism, maybe we, the people, should start demanding some better answers. (As an aside, we can add that the Washington Post’s David Ignatius, another high-ranking MSM-er, asked some of the same probing questions in his latest column, even if he seemed more sure than Hirsh that Hillary Clinton has all the answers.)
In his concluding paragraph, Hirsh observed that, through it all, Trump is undeniably connecting with his audience:
At a time when many Americans are angry and feel dispossessed, and when they blame the rest of the world for their ills — egged on by Trump’s rhetoric about getting “raped,” for example by China — it may be that voters do want another choice. Trump appears to be offering one, and a lot of people are listening.
Interestingly, it wasn’t too long ago that Trump’s views on foreign policy and national security were seen by many as crippling to his candidacy. After Trump attacked George W. Bush’s handling of 9/11 and the Iraq War in the February 13 debate in Greenville, SC, an unnamed Republican “strategist” chortled to Katie Glueck, another Politico reporter, “Trump’s attack on President George W. Bush was galactic-level stupid in South Carolina.” Well, not so fast there, Mr. Insider-Expert; Trump, of course, triumphed in the Palmetto State primary a week later.
Looking back on that moment, we might today observe that Bush 43 is popular in much of the Republican Party, and yet at the same time, there’s considerable disgruntlement about the way that the “Great War on Terror” has been fought over the last 15 years — especially by those who actually did the fighting and the bleeding.
Indeed, when one thinks about Republican politics in this young century, we can see that at times, the GOP platform has seemed to consist mostly of foreign wars, open borders, and cuts to earned entitlement programs such as Social Security and Medicare. By that reckoning, maybe it’s hard to believe that Republicans have done indeed as well, politically, as they have done. (Thank God for Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi!)
Still, the landslide defeats that the Republicans suffered in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections speak to a deep weakness in the party’s national agenda — what might be called, uncharitably, the Bush-McCain-Romney agenda. And that’s what Trump obviously seeks to change.
But does Trump really mean it? Or, to put it another way, can he really do it? In view of his track record, in life and, more recently, in politics, it would be a mistake to underestimate him. Yet, at the same time, whether one loves him or loathes him, it must be observed that he will not be governing alone — the Constitution guarantees that.
As veteran anti-tax activist Grover Norquist told the Washington Post, if the New Yorker wins in November, his “art-of-the-dealing” will be put to the test. Speaking of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker Paul Ryan, Norquist said, “The three of them have to agree.” And so, Norquist — who is regarded as more libertarian than Trump — added, thinking of a President Donald, “I sleep well at night.” That is, our constitutional system guarantees a carefully modulated outcome.
This stipulation, about the stubborn power of the separation of powers, brings up another point: Politics is a team effort. And speaking to the importance of team-building, former Reagan education secretary Bill Bennett said of Trump, in the same Post article, that this is not the time to criticize Trump for his alleged faults, but rather, “Now is the time to surround him with good people and work with him at the convention.”
Norquist and Bennett are correct. As our possible 45th president, Trump would still have to negotiate with the Congressional leadership — maybe even Democratic leadership. Yes, the White House is the bully pulpit, but politics is always, and only, the art of the possible. Or, as Washington wits say, “The President proposes, and the Congress disposes.”
So we should pay close attention to the team that Trump pulls together. For starters, there’s the question of his running mate. As an astute analyst here at Breitbart observed the other day, the most important decision that Trump will make between now and the election is his vice-presidential pick.
Yet the rest of the Trump team is important, too. As they also say inside the Beltway, “personnel is policy.” And so, already, people are starting to flyspeck the Trump campaign for portents of things to come.
And so far at least, fans of American jobs and domestic manufacturing — which is to say, almost all Americans — should be heartened by what there is to see. As bespeaks his background as a builder, Trump has always been a champion of the “tangible economy” — that is, of the America that actually makes things, as opposed to just moving around zeroes on a spreadsheet. And certainly, Trump’s proposed tax and trade policies signal his strong commitment to factories and blue collars.
Yet, in our continuing examination of the campaign tea leaves, we might wish to pause over this intriguing quote from that Michael Hirsh article in Politico; a senior adviser told Hirsh that at the base of Trump’s foreign-policy vision was a “Hamiltonian emphasis on having financial independence through manufacturing.”
So, there are the eight words that mean so much. There are the eight words — Hamiltonian emphasis on having financial independence through manufacturing — that mean so much to our economy, offering us a way out of the zero-sum financialism of recent decades and also the solid prospect that we will continue to preserve our political sovereignty in the next century.
So let’s think about those words and parse them out.
First, “Hamiltonian” refers, of course, to Alexander Hamilton. Having dropped out of college to join the fight, Hamilton served as George Washington’s aide-de-camp through most of the American Revolution, although toward the end of the war, in 1781, he took command of a combat battalion and led it to victory at the Battle of Yorktown.
After the war was won, later in the decade, he co-authored The Federalist Papers — a body of work that helped persuade the states to ratify the Constitution. Then, in 1789, President Washington appointed him to be our first Secretary of the Treasury. And oh yes, he’s the guy who’s also remembered for having been killed in an 1804 duel. Even great soldiers can get outgunned.
Hamilton has always been prominent; his image has graced the $10 bill since 1929 — and with no end in sight, even as other dead white males find themselves on the outs.
However, Hamilton has gone from big to bigger, having enjoyed a huge revival in recent decades. In 1997, the prominent American historian Michael Lind published Hamilton’s Republic: Readings in the American Democratic Nationalist Tradition; that work, as well as other of Lind’s writings, inspired scholars to rethink, and revise upward, their assessment of Hamilton’s role as a key nation-builder. Then, in 2005, another historian, Ron Chernow, wrote a highly regarded biography of Hamilton, further raising his standing.
Of course, the most startling breakthrough came in 2015, when Lin-Manuel Miranda debuted Hamilton, the musical, on Broadway. Who knew that a man who had been dead for more than two centuries could be such a sensation? Miranda’s opus managed to combine rousing entertainment with solid scholarship — Chernow was closely involved in its production. In fact, the show has been honored with a record 16 Tony nominations.
Yet amidst all the hoopla, it’s important not to lose sight of exactly what Hamilton, the man, actually stood for in his life and why he is important today — and important to Trump.
First and foremost, as we have seen, he was a staunch American patriot.
Second, he was both a visionary and a policy wonk. He could see a Greater America, but he also had the patience to navigate his way through the mass of detail that is actual governance.
To that end, on December 5, 1791, Treasury Secretary Hamilton delivered his Report on Manufactures to Congress. That document was a powerful blueprint, both for American national security and for American economic development.
In the Report, Hamilton declared that the infant republic’s first goal must be to build itself up as a permanently sovereign country. As he put it, the national mission was to “render the United States independent [of] foreign nations for military and other essential supplies.” That is, in Hamilton’s view, America had to be fully prepared for war on its own, acquiring, within its borders, all the necessary means for defense and security.
This was no small task: Hamilton was fully aware that America, having just won a difficult battle for independence against a far greater military and industrial power, namely, England, would have to defend itself against enemies in the future — and maybe, once again, England. As he wrote about the stern matter at hand, “War, like most other things, is a science to be acquired and perfected by diligence, by perseverance, by time, and by practice.”
Hamilton further understood that any defense strategy had to be comprehensive, drawing upon all the resources and potentials strengths of the new nation. To fight a war, the country would need armaments, and yet it would also need the industries that could create those armaments, as well as the overall economic strength to make the nation strong enough to afford to fight.
To that end, Hamilton advocated support for “infant industries” as well as “internal improvements” — that is, infrastructure, such as roads and canals.
In addition, a modernized financial system would also be necessary to provide capital to these new industries and infrastructure projects. America, Hamilton maintained, needed policies whereby “industry is increased, commodities are multiplied, agriculture and manufacturers flourish … Herein consists the true wealth and prosperity of the state.” That’s the Hamiltonian vision of national economic greatness, although, again, it must be noted that his first priority was always national defense.
So we can see: That anonymous Trump adviser, in citing Hamilton, was citing a heavy figure indeed.
But Hamilton had still more to say — and to accomplish.
Indeed, as a member of George Washington’s Cabinet, he did much more than just write reports. He developed a system of national finance, which included founding the U.S. Mint, a far more consequential institution in the days when coins defined the national government’s role in expanding or contracting the money supply.
Moreover, after helping to devise the duties, tariffs, and excises needed both to fund the government’s operations and to protect the nation’s infant industries, Hamilton also created the Revenue Cutter Service to thwart smugglers coming to our shores. The Cutter Service, we might note, was a clever dual-use tool: Its ships were to be used for economic enforcement in peacetime, as well as for fighting in wartime.
Hamilton and his assistant at the Treasury, Tench Coxe, also helped create the quasi-public Society for the Establishment of Useful Manufactures in New Jersey, where the Passaic River poured down in a 77-foot crescendo — that is, as a huge natural source of water power energy. Over the next century, the Society helped to produce everything from textiles to kitchen utensils. It was also the first site of the Colt Gun Works, producer of the revolver, the weapon that won the American West.
So as we can see, Hamilton’s legacy is about energetic executive leadership, private as well as public, to achieve certain necessary goals — both for the economy and for defense.
Always shrewd about human nature, Hamilton understood that people are often hesitant about change. As he put it, “The simplest and most obvious improvements … are adopted with hesitation, reluctance and by slow gradations.” So once again, the key to improving things is energetic, galvanic leadership. No wonder the Trump forces like Hamilton!
To speed up progress, Hamilton argued that the government must sometimes take the lead: “To produce the desirable changes … may therefore require the incitement and patronage of government.” To be sure, Hamilton was an ardent capitalist, hungering for wealth as much as the next aspiring tycoon. Yet, as we can see, he always possessed a cold eye for the realistic and the plausible.
And his ultimate goal, above all else, was national security — the well-being of the nation. And sometimes, that goal required partnerships, allowing neither the private nor public sector to be fully tasked with — or trusted with — sole implementation.
And so, Hamilton, and Hamiltonianism, might seem hard to comprehend today; in the eyes of some, he, and it, seem to be both “right” and “left” at the same time.
On the one hand, he was a firm believer in private property, entrepreneurship, and the profit motive. Yet, he also never lost sight of the national interest, of the well-being of all Americans. So we can observe: If being a patriot — caring about the whole country and its people — is regarded in certain ideological quadrants as “left,” well, then, maybe it’s time to say it: Nihilistic libertarianism, which sees patriotism as a species of liberalism, has gained way too much influence. After all, the phrase, “promote the general welfare” is right there in the Preamble of the Constitution — although, of course, nobody in the 18th century ever dreamed that the word “welfare” would ever be transmuted into “money for idleness.” In Hamilton’s mind, promoting welfare meant promoting gainful employment for all.
So it seems a safe bet that Hamilton would have embraced the Reagan-Trump slogan, “Make America Great Again.” The only thing we can add is that it was Hamilton who helped make America great in the first place.
Hamilton died when he was not yet 50, but in his relatively brief life, he set in motion a tradition, a way of thinking, that the neo-Hamiltonian Henry Clay dubbed “The American System.” And so Hamilton’s successors focused on canals, railroads, and other internal improvements for the nation during peacetime, as well as building more and better armament factories in wartime.
And to those who say that Hamilton’s legacy is some sort of abrogation of “liberty,” it’s worth recalling that his policies are woven into the founding fabric of this nation. As we have seen, Hamilton was the nation’s first Treasury Secretary, and his Report was endorsed by the first president and accepted by the first Congress. The Hamiltonian approach has often been controversial and sometimes unpopular, but it can never be said to be unconstitutional or un-American. And in any case, it must be said that Hamiltonianism was the economic philosophy that guided America for most of the first two centuries of its national existence, from the 1790s to the 1980s.
So that should answer the big question that can be asked about the American System: Did it work? Answer: Of course. It was #Winning.
For fun, we can add one illustrative datapoint: In 1840, as the mass-scale production of steel was just beginning, England was producing about 1.3 million tons of steel a year. At the same time, the U.S. was making only about 300,000 tons. In other words, England was outproducing us, in this vital metric of national strength, by a more than 4:1 margin.
Yet during the second half of the 19th century, the two English-speaking countries followed far different economic strategies: Starting in 1846, England launched a unilateral experiment in total free trade, while America stuck with its Hamiltonian pro-industrial tariff.
And the results were striking: In 1913, British steel production had grown to 10.4 millions, which was an 800 percent increase. That doesn’t sound bad — until you learn what Uncle Sam achieved in the same time period. During those seven decades, American production grew to 31.5 million tons, or a 10,000 percent increase. (As an aside, we might note that Germany, which followed the same nationalist economic strategy as America, enjoyed a similarly meteoric rise in its steel production, also widely eclipsing England.)
In other words, Hamiltonianism created the industrial base that enabled us to make all those nails, sewing machines, and automobiles in peacetime, as well as all those ships, airplanes, and tanks in wartime.
So that’s how America became not only prosperous, but also strong — it was Hamiltonianism, applied. And that’s how we won three world wars in the 20th century, two hot and one cold.
So it’s extremely encouraging to see that same profound level of historical understanding and strategizing in the young Trump campaign policy-shop.
Because, in Hamiltonianism, we see the seeds of, yes, Making America Great Again.