The Doctrine of Patriotism – Trump’s UN speech and its European implications

Director for Foreign Affairs



US President Donald Trump once again shook the international establishment with his straightforward and rebellious speech at the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly, in which he laid down the cornerstones of his patriotic approach to foreign policy. In Europe, a similar ideological battle between globalists and patriots, or post-nationalists and sovereignists, has been bubbling under the surface for some years and has now arrived to a crucial point where this new fault line seems to be replacing traditional political divisions.

In a landmark speech comparable in importance to his Warsaw address, President Trump has once again reiterated that “America First” is the number one rule US foreign policy will continue to adhere to, and, perhaps even more importantly, that he stands for every country’s right to pursue its own interests.

Trump kicked off his speech by underlining the achievements of the first two years of his presidency. He highlighted his administration’s success in passing the GOP tax reform, a major campaign promise, which aimed to ease the burden on taxpayers – to make life easier for individuals and allow businesses to create more jobs. Trump also emphasized his government’s focus on increasing military spending and improving the country’s defense capabilities.  By highlighting these policies, he clearly spoke as the leader of a strong state, not only addressing two key concerns of his voters, namely the loss of stability and safety in their lives, but also reinforcing a new approach to international politics.

The key to maintaining peace, safety and prosperity, argues Trump, is for every nation to advance the interests of its own people, while respecting their neighbors. Therefore, he urges other nations to embrace the idea of positioning their own country first – a proposal that is celebrated by patriots across the world, but viewed by trans-nationalist elites as outrageous. “That is why America will always choose independence and cooperation over global governance, control, and domination” – this line alone signals that Trump is rejecting the previously dominant notion that a universalist ideology should be allowed to overshadow national interests for “a greater good”. He goes against the liberal idea that the whole world can only prosper if nations gradually give up their sovereignty to international organizations that supposedly know better what the world needs. The US President wants to return foreign relations to bilateral agreements, so he is consciously weakening multilateral institutions by pulling out of international agreements and reducing or even ceasing funding of international organizations. Instead, he is seeking to re-establish the traditional paradigm: pragmatic and fair cooperation between strong, sovereign nations. Many of his critics accuse him of undermining the rules-based international order, but he is, in fact, calling out those who have hijacked said order to advance their own agenda and subjugate the interests of those excluded.

If we look at Europe, similar efforts have been gaining ground for a couple of years, and the next big battle will take place next year in the European Parliament elections between those who believe in the idea of an integrated United States of Europe, and those who believe in a European Union based on an alliance of strong, sovereign nations – as intended by its founders. The former group is led by French President Emmanuel Macron, whose ambitious plans for Europe are in stark contrast to his record low popularity at home, and comprises many Western European leaders, as well as the EU establishment often labeled ‘Brussels’ – it is hard not to see the similarities between the unelected, unaccountable bureaucracies of the EU and the UN. Unlike these universalists, the latter group recognizes that the majority of Europeans believe that sovereign nation states provide the only framework in which democracy can thrive and their interests are effectively represented.

Hungary continues to play a key role on the European stage as one of the main figures of this patriotic movement in Europe is Prime Minister Viktor Orbán. Like Trump, Orbán believes that a government’s fundamental task is to protect its citizens, and speaks out against the stealthy overextension of trans-nationalist authorities. There is no issue that better demonstrates this struggle than the migration crisis. Like the US, Hungary chose to defend itself and Europe by strengthening border control. The fence, which was once denounced by many Western countries, including some that have similar or even more impenetrable structures in place, has essentially become a European best practice – even the face of the ‘Wilkommenskultur’, Chancellor Angela Merkel has now gone on record saying that the Hungarian fence should have been put in place sooner! And yet, not an EU summit goes by without a clever attempt to curb Hungary’s sovereignty over immigration policy, even though this was never part of the EU’s remit. On this occasion, European states were asked to hand over border control to Frontex – an EU institution that, as PM Orbán explained, has never controlled a single meter of border. “We recognize the right of every nation in this room to set its own immigration policy in accordance with its national interests, just as we ask other countries to respect our own right to do the same” – President Trump’s modest proposal is the same cause the Hungarian PM has been fighting for.

There is an ongoing struggle between those who would prefer to push the world into a new, post-national era, and those who fight to preserve their nation’s sovereignty and identity, and this fault line seems to be reshaping politics in the West. President Trump has now labeled the latter team ‘patriots’, and he is recruiting. The Hungarian Prime Minister, having just won a third consecutive supermajority, already has strong allies, and if we take a look at the trends evident from polls and election results throughout Europe, things are looking good for Western patriots.