Schmitz Gives Last Speech of 35-Year Tenure

Tywen Kelly, Publisher

On Tuesday May 1, David Schmitz, the Robert Allen Skotheim Chair of History, delivered a talk titled, “Assessing President Trump’s Foreign Policy: America First versus American Internationalism.” Schmitz lectured about Trump’s ostensible lack of a foreign policy in Maxey Auditorium for 20 minutes before taking questions for 40 minutes from the audience.

Schmitz began the lecture by describing his motivation in preparing his remarks. First, he felt it was “an obligation as a scholar of Twentieth and Twenty-First century American history and U.S. foreign policy” to address such timely topics as the Trump Presidency. The second reason is that Schmitz will retire after this school year and so felt obligated to provide the college a “last opportunity” to discuss “this critical area for all of us.” Due to administrative cuts in the humanities, and the board of trustee’s objective to revert to a 10:1 student to faculty ration, there will not be a replacement professor of U.S. history next year.

Schmitz conceded that to talk about Trump’s foreign policy is akin to “shooting at a moving target.” Trump’s lack of qualifications and experience lead to erratic decisions; his volatile behavior ultimately obscures the semblance of a through-line policy.

Schmitz offered a historical lens to make sense of Trump, tracing his “America first” foreign policy to notions of American exceptionalism and resurgent neoconservativism. He characterized Trump’s foreign policy as built fundamentally on a rejection of Internationalism. This, according to Schmitz, presents a stark contrast to Obama’s embrace of the Internationalist foreign policy that has guided America’s role in the world to varying degrees since the end of WWII. This is an Internationalism founded on collective security, multilateral institutions such as the IMF, the World Bank, The United Nations, NATO, and others.

Reviewing Obama’s State of The Union Address in 2016, Schmitz recited Obama’s policy to cooperate and partner with other nations as a means to not only better the world, but also to better the United States. Obama’s notion of internationalism is not driven by charity, but rather by the belief that helping others will help the United States.

Since Trump’s inauguration, the Republican Party has “made the centerpiece of its policy running against Washington.” Schmitz elaborated that the party has instigated an “attack on the idea of collective action for the common good.”

By American First, Schmitz underlines, Trump does not mean to usher in a neo-isolationism. Instead he puts forward an American unilateralism – the idea that world should be led by the U.S. and the world should listen to the U.S.

Schmitz paralleled Mitt Romney’s strong sense of American exceptionalism, and more broadly, the principles of neoconservativism: namely, the efficacy of military power, the impotence of diplomacy and the omnipotence of American power. This is exemplified by Trump’s appointment of John Bolton, himself a leading neoconservative, and Trump’s rejection of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which facilitates trade with countries like China.

All this signifies Trump’s embrace of authoritarianism. Schmitz referred to Trump’s “bromance” with Putin, as well as his celebration of figures like Duterte.

Finally, Schmitz compared the aspirations of George Washington, in his farewell address in 1796, in which he writes about the necessities of what type of leaders a nation must have. Namely, the president must strive to unify, to look after the good of the whole, to look for compromise, and to have greater character than those in Congress.

Schmitz ended with the reiteration that the policies of unilateralism, exceptionalism and neoconservativism, “Always, always, always fail. [They] fail to serve the national interests of the United States.”