Some intellectual tea leaves on what President Donald Trump may do on a broad policy front — from politics and foreign affairs to globalization and technology innovation — were revealed this week by the launch of a new US conservative publication called American Affairs.
The quarterly journal, whose editorial format resembles Foreign Affairs, the leading US magazine on international affairs and foreign policy, touts itself as a source of policy commentary for the new Trump administration in Washington. It lists many Trump supporters and converts in its stable of contributors.
Julius Krein, a 30-year-old Harvard whiz kid and investment analyst serves as editor of the publication that Politico called an effort “to lay the intellectual foundation for the Trump movement”.
“Our political discourse has been asking the wrong questions, or at least not asking the right questions nearly enough,” Krein said at the February 21 launch of American Affairs at the Harvard Club of New York City.
Two high-profile panelists — billionaire Silicon Valley investor Peter Thiel and Anne-Marie Slaughter, president of the liberal Washington-based New America think tank, kicked off the event that drew about 75 members of the city’s conservative glitterati.
Thiel is an adviser and member of Trump’s transition team and one of the few members of the largely liberal Silicon Valley investment community to staunchly support the Trump presidential race.
“It’s a big opportunity for thinking about things more,” Thiel said about the purpose of American Affairs in a brief exchange following his panel discussion. But the PayPal co-founder says he has no official relationship or investment in the publication.
Thiel is a critic of globalization who believes that the process of international integration arising from the interchange of world views, products, ideas and culture has reached an ebb and is engendering a “nihilistic” response.
“Globalization is not working as well as advertised,” Thiel said in his presentation.
He noted, among other things, that global capital flows “are going the wrong way” under globalization. Rather than flowing from advanced countries to developing nations, he sees it moving, for example, from a fast-growing China to a slow-growing US.
“If China is becoming like the US, that’s not necessarily a healthy dynamic,” Thiel said, because it means that China is replacing the US.
Thiel also views technology as a bigger driver of economic growth than globalization, arguing that money should be poured into areas such as tech innovation and life-prolonging biomedical research. He also believes it was the lack of growth in the US that fueled Trump’s election victory as disenchanted voters bought into his narrative on the economy.
“You have to give people hope that the future will be better,” Thiel said.
Slaughter, in her presentation, agreed that globalization is now in ebb and that many assumptions behind it should be challenged. “But nations still need to be connected by networks,” Slaughter told the audience.
Asia Times columnist David P. Goldman , a member of American Affairs’ advisory board, spoke in detail about what the publication wants to achieve.
“The problem the Trump administration has is that the American elite — both Republican and Democrat imploded — that’s why Trump got elected,” Goldman said. “He was a complete outsider, a totally improbable candidate, who was elected because the establishment fell into such discredit with the voters.”
Goldman notes the absence, following Trump’s victory, of a recognized intellectual elite that can aid his administration in policy formulation. Amid this vacuum, Goldman said, “the editors of American Affairs are trying to create an alternative by bringing in voices who are critical of the establishment, but have some positive recommendations to make”.
The new batch of experts, according to Goldman, would serve the same purpose for a Trump administration that policy experts for Foreign Affairs and other policy journals serve for “establishment” Republican and Democratic decision makers today.
Writers who penned articles for American Affairs’ inaugural edition, in addition to Goldman, included Reuven Brenner, an ardent opponent of macroeconomics who holds the Repap Chair at McGill University’s Desautels Faculty of Management and Michael Anton, a senior national security official in the Trump administration and a sharp critic of the US foreign policy establishment.
“What unites the writers is a hope that the political revolution which occurred in the United States might create the circumstances under which a new and better set of policy ideas could be brought to the fore, evaluated and adopted in an attempt to create an institutional setting for vetting and discussing alternative ideas,” Goldman said.
New policy oracle?
Will American Affairs become a policy oracle for the Trump administration and other US conservatives? The jury is still out.
But the event’s attendees included other Trump stalwarts besides Thiel. One was Rebekah Mercer, a major Trump donor, the daughter of billionaire hedge fund manager Robert Mercer and another member of Trump’s transition team.
There was also a leading light from the anti-Trump fold — Bill Kristol the neoconservative founder of The Weekly Standard, who led the failed “Never Trump” movement who tried to organize a third-party candidacy against Trump in the 2016 race.