If Donald Trump were a liberal Democrat, some of the media’s descriptions of “chaos” and “disarray” in the White House probably would be replaced with stories about “creative tension” among a “team of rivals.” As it is, the struggle between “nationalists” like Steve Bannon and “globalists” like Gary Cohn is characterized in near-apocalyptic terms. Yet as Mr. Trump told The Wall Street Journal last week, “I’m a nationalist and a globalist.” That is good news: Mr. Trump and the Republican Party should be weaving nationalist and globalist themes together rather than picking them apart.
Nationalism—the sense that Americans are bound together into a single people with a common destiny—is a noble and necessary force without which American democracy would fail. A nationalist and patriotic elite produces leaders like George Washington, who aim to promote the well-being of the country they love. An unpatriotic and antinationalist elite produces people who feather their nests without regard to the common good.
Mr. Trump is president in large part because millions of Americans, rightly or wrongly, believed that large sections of their country’s elite were no longer nationalist. Flawed he may be, but the president bears an important message, and Trump-hating elites have only themselves to blame for his ascendancy. A cosmopolitan and technocratic political class that neither speaks the language nor feels the pull of nationalist solidarity cannot successfully lead a democratic society.
The president symbolized his nationalist commitment by hanging a portrait of Andrew Jackson in a place of honor in the Oval Office. Now Mr. Trump must stay true to that commitment or he will lose his political base and American politics will spin even further off balance. But life is rarely simple. Jacksonian means will not always achieve Jacksonian goals. Sometimes, they even get in the way.
Jackson learned this when his populist fight against the Second Bank of the United States ultimately led to a depression that turned the country over to his hated Whig rivals. As Mr. Trump comes to grips with the tough international economic reality, he is realizing that not everything the Jacksonians think they want will actually help them. The president has already discovered that ripping up the North American Free Trade Agreement won’t help the middle-class voters who put him in office.
Jacksonian voters don’t want North Korea to have the ability to threaten the U.S. with nuclear weapons. They also don’t want a second Korean War. Reaching the best outcome on Korea could mean giving China a better deal on trade than many Trump voters would desire. Populists like to rail against globalization and world order. Yet the security and prosperity of the American people depend on an intricate web of military, diplomatic, political and economic arrangements that an American president must manage and conserve.
Mr. Trump is learning that some of the core goals of his Jacksonian program can be realized only by judiciously employing the global military, diplomatic and economic statesmanship associated with Alexander Hamilton. Bringing those two visions into alignment isn’t easy. Up until the Civil War, the American party system revolved around the rivalry of the Jacksonian Democrats with the Hamiltonian Whigs. Abraham Lincoln fused Jacksonian unionism with Henry Clay’s Hamiltonian vision when he created the modern Republican Party. Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan revitalized the party of their times by returning to the Jacksonian-Hamiltonian coalition that made the old party grand.
The future of the Trump administration and the Republican Party largely depend on whether the president and his allies can return to these roots. The elements of fusion are there. While Jacksonians are skeptical of corporate power and international institutions, they like economic growth that benefits the middle class, and they strongly believe in an America that stands up for itself and its allies. They are less worried about budget deficits than they are about a strong economy. If the tide is lifting the rowboats, they do not care all that much that the yachts are rising too.
For the coalition to work, Hamiltonians need to realize that the health and cohesion of American society is fundamental to the world order that allows corporations and financial firms to operate so profitably in the global market. In other words, Peoria matters much more than Davos. It was American power and will that built the present world order and ultimately must sustain it. A divided society with an eviscerated middle class cannot provide the stable, coherent leadership that is required.
The U.S. must be simultaneously a nationalist power, focused on the prosperity and security of its own people, and a globalist power working to secure the foundations of international order that Americans need. Mr. Trump appears to understand this truth better than many of his most vituperative critics. The task now confronting the president and his team is to develop and execute a national strategy based on these insights. Nothing in today’s world is harder than this, and nothing is more essential.