PARIS -- It's a sign that something is amiss when an American presidential candidate ruffles feathers by announcing, as Republican front-runner Donald Trump did recently, that the theme of his administration would be "America First."
"No country has ever prospered that failed to put its own interests first," Trump said in a speech outlining his foreign policy. "Both our friends and enemies put their countries above ours, and we, while being fair to them, must do the same. We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism."
With this statement, Trump has positioned himself as a champion of the silent middle-class majority and has differentiated himself from his likely opponent in the general election, Hillary Clinton.
Some critics have already called Trump's "America First" worldview dangerous. You'd think it would be a no-brainer for a U.S. presidential candidate to prioritize American interests. But Trump's detractors are rightfully reading something more significant into his slogan: that it places the interests of the middle class above those of the special interests that have hijacked the national agenda.
The middle class has long been exploited by the policies of the establishment elites who control Washington and other Western democracies. American workers have seen their wages stagnate, or have lost their jobs, under the pretext of tolerating an influx of immigrants willing to work for less. They've watched as special-interest groups have brought unwarranted attention to fringe issues.
The middle class has also seen its jobs shipped overseas. This is critical to survival of American industry, we're told. Yet the 50 biggest companies in the United States "have stashed more than a trillion dollars offshore and used more than 1,600 subsidiaries in tax havens to avoid billions of dollars in tax each year," according to a recent report from the anti-poverty organization Oxfam America. This is the sort of thing Trump was referring to when he mentioned "the false song of globalism." Companies cited by Oxfam include Pfizer, Goldman Sachs, Dow Chemical, Chevron, Wal-Mart, IBM and Procter & Gamble.
American leadership leans hard on the middle-class worker bees who quietly and diligently pay their taxes so that the government can spend recklessly, with little to show for their spending and little accountability. The middle class could form the most powerful political action committee in the U.S., except that the average middle-class voter is too busy trying to keep his or her head above water from day to day. With special interests dominating American politics, it's been years since any leader was willing to step up and champion the middle class.
The success of the Trump campaign is evidence of a reawakening of the middle-class voice in America the likes of which we haven't seen since the Reagan years.
Of course, when the working class supports a leader who places their interests above those of the establishment elites, there's bound to be a backlash. We've seen this with the relentless rhetoric against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Intent on building up domestic industries and diversifying the Russian economy to replace declining oil revenues, Putin has cut trade deals that don't sell out the Russian people.
Establishment elites have good reason to worry about Trump's "America First" platform. Their influence on politicians leads to policies that further enhance their wealth, however destructive those policies may be to the middle class. But why should the wealthiest Americans worry about the average worker when they retreat to their gilded residences around the world and avoid having to engage with the society they've had a hand in destroying? While they share a legitimate gripe with the middle class about tax rates, America's wealthy have chosen to further their own interests rather than close ranks with the middle class and use their political clout to effect change for the good of all.
Globalization has its indisputable advantages -- specifically, ease of communication and movement -- but the concept has careened off the rails.
A call to order is long overdue, and Trump is intent on leading that initiative. As a result, the silent and oppressed majority may be on the verge of getting their voice back. It's no wonder America's rich and powerful are worried.