Whither the “City Upon a Hill”? Donald Trump, America First, and American Exceptionalism (Winter 2019/2020)
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In order to understand Donald Trump’s “America First” agenda, we must examine the master narrative that underpins it. Trump breaks with all modern presidents not just because he challenges the postwar “liberal international order,” but because he rejects its underlying master narrative — American exceptionalism. America First relies instead on the narrative of Jacksonian nationalism. What makes America great, according to this narrative, is not a diverse nation unified in its adherence to certain liberal ideals, but rather ethnocultural homogeneity, material wealth, and military prowess. In this view, the United States is unexceptional, and therefore has no mission to pursue abroad. By shedding light on this alternative master narrative, we can better understand Trump’s presidency, his grand strategy, and why a return to the status quo ante after Trump is unlikely.