- - Sunday, June 11, 2017


President Trump inherited a deeply divided and troubled nation.

We have always had regions that lead and others that lag, and sectionalism. However, not since Reconstruction and the Great Depression have economic and cultural divisions been so stark.

Huddled on the two coasts and in isolated metropoles in between are the graduates of elite universities — and worker bees in education, government agencies and supporting services — who exploit the opportunities offered by globalization and hew to a post-exceptionalist vision of America.

To them, a benevolent state that champions free trade, pours compensation — food stamps, subsidized health care and the like — on its victims and subordinates American culture and interests to global community are not merely a liberal prescription for progress but a secular religion. Those who disagree are immoral and to be chastened.

Donald Trump’s America First agenda — his penchant for fairer trade deals, pruning entitlements to what federal finances and the imperatives of growth can afford and requiring friends in Europe and the Middle East to be more realistic about the requirements of security and lasting peace — is not merely wrong but heresy.

His election does not represent the cyclical alternation from more liberal Democratic to more conservative Republican presidents. Rather, liberals deny his legitimacy and engage in demagoguery and extra-constitutional obstructionism — for those tactics, they should be disgraced.

The other America, as the 2016 electoral map of blue and red counties shows, is interior, more rural and small city and deeply troubled. Save the shale oil counties, those are bedeviled by losses of factories, mines and distribution centers. They are beset by high unemployment, low wages, drug addiction, rising suicides, poorer health and shorter life expectancies.

Those places benefit most from Washington’s welfare machine, and the wealthy on the two coasts gladly pay the taxes to buy social peace and buttress their sense of entitlement and moral superiority.

By financing the social hammock, liberals hope to keep their globalist agenda going — and expand opportunities for their shining cities to sell even more financial services, media and technology products to the world — while jobs for the interior disappear.

Now the coastal elites are shocked by the outcome of the recent presidential election — and many other local ballots that put Congress, 33 governorships and most statehouses in the hands of Republicans.

The reason for the ballot-box revolt is simple. The great masses of Middle America who went to state colleges — or for whom a college degree worth something is distant and unattainable — want more than generous government benefits.

They want the elements of satisfying lives that the liberal agenda simply doesn’t deliver for them — decent jobs, the preservation of American culture and personal security.

They sense Bill Clinton’s free trade with Mexico and China, Barack Obama’s kumbaya foreign and immigration policies and the ever pervasive enforcement of political correctness through the omnipresent administrative state are significantly responsible for their problems.

In the last several weeks, we have finally seen the Trump presidency put their agenda into action. Notification to Congress to renegotiate NAFTA, withdrawal from the Paris climate accord, a 2018 budget that would slash the bureaucracy and limit entitlements to modernize the military, finance pro-growth tax cuts and end excessive regulation, and a more realistic foreign policy, as expressed during Mr. Trump’s recent trip abroad.

In the Middle East, he did not lecture about human rights but acknowledged Muslim cultural identities and interests and by derivation asserted ours. He encouraged the Gulf States to genuinely engage Israel and for Israel to respond.

To Europe, he brought a sensible message. The continent can no longer expect America to expend its treasure and risk the lives of its youth to defend its liberty if our allies will not contribute in equal measure.

To the Germans in particular he repeated the basic wisdom of modern economic textbooks: for free trade to be a tide that raises all boats — not one that creates luxury liner accommodations in Frankfort and New York and throws Athens and middle America overboard — it must be more nearly balanced.

Mr. Trump’s policies amplified a cry far from Wall Street, Hollywood and Cupertino — in places like Reading, Pennsylvania, Imperial County, California and Klamath Falls, Oregon. Good jobs not handouts clench the soul, globalism is not the national religion and security can’t be bought with diplomacy unaccompanied by muscle.

• Peter Morici is an economist and business professor at the University of Maryland, and a national columnist.

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