The recent United Kingdom vote has the world spinning. The Brexit voters themselves likely saw their vote as the last opportunity to take back control of their nation from economic elites and place it in the control of an angry middle class devastated by the “new world order”. The June 23, 2016 vote is a message but it remains to be seen whether the results put a permanent stop to broader regional formations and a return to national sovereignty – or are just a stop gap measure that allows serious questions to be raised. What is clear is that the United Kingdom vote is causing a reassessment of a lot of things here and of the continental institutions put in place after the devastation of two world wars that happened not so long ago.
Broadly, Americans over the age of 50 (and more so the older they are) favor a more robust foreign policy. Born in the Cold War, steeped in morality, and empowered by a tradition of wars against evil, older Americans want an extension of the “American Century” – judicious but fearless use of the military, diplomacy based on strength, and tough rhetoric – to dictate the United States’ position in the world. They are the nationalists.
But for those Americans under 50 years of age (and increasingly the younger they are), their memories are based more on failed overseas US adventures, lost wars, insurgencies that defy military fire and hardware, intractable “solutions”, and growing anti-US resentment. They continue to recognize America as a force for good, but also see the US as a player in a world of other players and solutions best derived from bringing more players into the fold.
I have been asking the following question for over 15 years: “Which of the following best describes who you are – a resident of your city or town, an American citizen, or a citizen of the Planet Earth”? (The results below are based on an aggregation of 2016 Zogby Analytics Polls, a total of 3,953 likely voters nationwide).
Overall, one in three (35%) prefer to identify by their local residence and 42% call themselves “American citizens”. Just a little under one quarter (23%) prefer the designation as “citizens of the Planet Earth”. But as always we have to dig deeper to find out what is really going on. Thus, while only 14% of Republicans see themselves in planetary terms, 26% of Democrats and 27% of independents have a broader worldview. Even more, 33% of liberals take on this designation – in sharp contrast to the just 15% of conservatives (52% of whom refer to themselves as American citizens, second highest to only Republicans who are at 56%).
American voters who never attend a place of worship are far more likely to see themselves as Earthlings (27%) than the 18% of those who attend at least weekly. Easterners and Westerners (25% and 26% respectively) are more likely than Southerners (20%) and Heartland voters (19%). Almost three in ten LGBT (29%) identify themselves as citizens of the planet, in contrast to heterosexuals (21%). So does a higher percentage of members of the Creative Class – 28%.
The highest percentage of all is reserved for supporters of Occupy Wall Street – 35% — who are three times more likely to favor this self-description than their counterparts who support the Tea Party (12%).
For today, the planetary citizens are small but intense and they play their game mainly on the Left. In fact, they are a significant portion of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. They are also having a great influence over the party’s platform debate, the question of turnout in November, the politics of the outside, the battle over the heart and soul of the party itself. Above all, they are the high intensity force that makes policymakers re-think US intervention in global crises. The same appears to be true of Trump supporters on the right as they challenge the GOP’s foreign policy platform once dominated by neoconservatives.
All of this means that foreign policy is a major area of convergence between the “citizens of the Planet Earth” and those who identify more locally: both groups want their government to use less force around the world. Earthlings seem to be saying to their governments, “stay out of this one; we’ll take care of our fellow global citizens”, while the local-minded are saying “stay out of this one and take care of us!”
I believe that the “citizens of the Planet Earth” are the future. One in four may not seem like a big number, but it represents something so new and different from what we have ever known in this country. At the same time, Brexit shows us that “local” may also be “in” and though these are two ends of a spectrum, common ground is found in each group’s wariness of aggressive foreign intervention. One group looks outside itself and sees all others in-kind and the other looks within and expects others around the world to do the same. Irrespective of how they see themselves, neither sees their government as global.