Una Gaffe su Ciampi all’apertura del G-7 ran the headline in Corriere della Sera. Italy’s pro-Clinton “newspaper of record” went on to describe how the American President greeted Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, the Italian prime minister, when they met at the Tokyo economic summit: “Good morning President Skahlfahroh,” apparently confusing the prime minister (the president of the council) with President Scalfaro, whose name he mispronounced. Bad staff work is the explanation given.

It was an embarrassing moment for Prime Minister Ciampi, but in his life of public service he must have met lots of American business and political leaders who think Andreotti is a driver who races at Indianapolis and who cannot name a French President since Charles de Gaulle. Besides, what recent American Presidents have been able to pronounce (much less speak) any foreign language? Jack “Ich bin ein Berliner” Kennedy? Jimmy “I studied Spanish” Carter? Bill “I was a Rhodes Scholar” Clinton (or is it Clintone?) has enough trouble with English. James Garfield, among the least of American Presidents, could compose Greek and Latin simultaneously with different hands. The state of our current leadership is exemplified by Senator Edward Kennedy, who, despite all the influence and advantages his father’s ill-gotten wealth could buy, was expelled from Harvard for cheating on a Spanish exam.

Who cares, some of my readers will ask. Several of them wrote kind letters asking if all our coverage of Yugoslavia was not a volte-face for an isolationist magazine. I will not quibble over the “isolationist,” although I believe we are the opposite of that, but isolation is not the same as ignorance, and if we believe that the United States should not imprudently interfere in the relations of other sovereign states, it does not mean that we should ignore them. America only makes sense as a province of Europe, albeit a province that became the center, and as we begin to lose contact with our European cousins, living as well as dead, we begin to get ingrown and strange, like an incestuous mountain village where all the children are born with six toes and two-figure IQ’s. Cut off from our roots, we develop tastes for paleolithic rap and oriental gibberish.

One of the signs that we are still provincial is the alacrity with which Americans leap at outdated foreign fads. The time was when Europeans all excoriated the United States for its failure to provide cradle-to-the-grave health care and social services. Now, at last, when the French and the Germans and the Swedes have begun to realize the devastating costs of their welfare systems, we are about to repeat their mistakes, even though our comparatively lower welfare costs constitute the most important competitive advantage we have in the international marketplace.

The point Europeans used to score against us was American nationalism or chauvinism, symbolized by efforts to promote American business interests and to restrict immigration. Now, just when the French, the Itahans, the Germans, and even the Swedes are beginning to rouse from their internationalist slumbers and recognize themselves as peoples with historical identities and particular interests, Americans are, as the pop psychologists like to say, “heavy into denial.”

Our Southern border is one long bleeding wound, leaking jobs and letting in an infection of welfare-seeking immigrants. When Democrats like Eugene McCarthy and Gaylord Nelson warn against the effects of unrestricted immigration, the Republicans do not even look up; they are too busy negotiating NAFTA side agreements that give privileges to their multinational campaign contributors.

We Americans have always been slow learners; it is one of our virtues. Roosevelt came to power ten years after Mussolini, and the American New Dealers, although they were vastly more destructive, did not have one-tenth of the originality and intelligence of the Italian fascists they were attempting to imitate, and now, as the French are redefining citizenship, the Germans are repealing their amnesty laws, and the Italians are rediscovering the real meaning of federalism, we are stuck in the same old rut where Roosevelt bogged us down, and we are enlisting more and more of our citizens in slave labor gangs to push the wagon forward, inch by inch, into the New World Order of managed competition and international socialism.

The political movements breaking out in Europe are variously described as nationalist and regionalist, but neither description is accurate. What connects French and German nationalists with the Italians in the Lega Nord is a rediscovered ethnic identity that is both natural and historic. Nationalism, a term that we have been using for want of a better word, is more properly applied to a political ideology that did not really emerge before the end of the 18th century. Unleashed by the French Revolution, the nationalist impulse spread rapidly under Jacobin rule. As French nationalist armies swept across Europe, they incited—both by their ideology and by their depredations—other peoples to discover their own nationalisms. The Italian flag, for example, is simply the French republican flag with a color substitution—as Umberto Bossi, head of the Lega Nord, incautiously observed a few years ago.

Mystical concepts of “the nation” and “the general will,” however dear they were to crackpots from Rousseau to Fichte, must also be seen as a partly wholesome response to the desiccated universalisms of the Enlightenment. In this sense Burke’s defense of England puts him closer to Romantic nationalists than to the universal rationalism of the Enlightenment. And today, even when demonstrations against the New World Order take on a nationalist overtone—as in the case of Le Pen’s Front National, we should not waste too much time deploring its Jacobin roots but rather welcome the implications. As one French Catholic rightist—decidedly not a Le Pen follower— told me last year, every good Frenchman really ought to support the efforts of the Front National.

There is, as yet, no American counterpart to these European movements. American public understanding of the national interest is retarded by the corruption of our political leadership and by the stupidity of the press. Our inability to grasp what is at stake can best be seen in the debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement. The editors of the Wall Street Journal pretend that NAFTA is a trade issue, and some of their readers are just obtuse enough to believe them, and so the argument goes back and forth between protectionists and free-traders, each side paid off by the business and labor interests who stand most to gain or lose by the agreement.

Ross Perot knows—as he always seems to know—that NAFTA is the political event of the decade, but he is just beginning to catch on that the loss of American jobs is a minor issue compared with the fact that America’s economic elite not only does not care if NAFTA sends jobs to Mexico—but that the whole point is to send jobs to Mexico.

To lower the price of labor, our business leaders are willing to sell out not just the working class but the country itself. Where others see crisis, big business sees only opportunities. Is California swamped with illegal aliens? Good, illegals work cheap. Are divorce and feminism tearing the American family apart? Wonderful, they’ll eat out more, and women work cheap. Will NAFTA encourage companies to relocate factories to Mexico? Terrific, there’s no environmental regulation, and—as Hyman Roth would say—”these people down here really understand business”; in fact, the Mexican upper classes run their government as a for-profit business. Besides, Mexicans work cheap.

Exceptio—as usual—probat regulum, since Patrick Buchanan is the one American political figure who has flatly declared that the issue is sovereignty and not trade. When adopted, NAFTA will supersede both federal and state laws, and each signatory will be bound to “ensure that all necessary measures are taken in order to give effect to the provisions of this Agreement, including their observance, except as otherwise provided in this Agreement, by state and provincial governments.” Ross Perot and Pat Choate, in their book Save Your Job, Save Our Country, point out that NAFTA not only requires us to change our laws but it also “gives Mexico and Canada the right to challenge the legality of our federal, state, and local laws as illegal trade barriers.” The London Sunday Telegraph’s Washington correspondent, Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, wonders if there is a parallel between NAFTA and the postwar European tariff agreements that culminated in Maastricht. A United States of North and South America might make even world government look like a good idea.

Mr. Buchanan was attacked by the Washington Post for using an “illegitimate” argument. But the same administration that is pushing NAFTA has also threatened to submit more and more American soldiers to U.N. control, and Mr. Clinton’s predecessor, who was if anything even more enthusiastic for NAFTA, tipped his hand in calling for a New World Order and fired the opening shots against all national sovereignties in what will some day be known as the Gulf Massacre.

On the important issues of national survival, the only real difference between Bush and Clinton is Clinton’s youth and ineptitude, which make him more prone to stumble every time he tries to climb upon the world’s stage, and all things considered it is probably a good thing he won the election, since the quicker the crisis arrives, the more likely we shall be to survive it.

Patrick Buchanan fears, quite rightly, that the Republicans are handing the NAFTA issue to Ross Perot, and he has criticized both Bob Dole and Jack Kemp in a speech that could be the opening shot of the 1996 presidential campaign. For the rest of the decade, the most important issues are all nationalist: immigration that threatens to change the character of the nation; trade measures that sell out American workers to multinational business; multilateral treaties and international organizations (the U.N. COMINTERN) that undermine national sovereignty.

These are the issues on which Mr. Buchanan based his “America First” campaign of 1992, but the time was not then ripe for a nationalist crusade, and although it is still too early to make any accurate predictions, one can see, already, the political lines of force that are about to split open the parties and coalitions. Here is the evidence.

Item one: the enduring success of Ross Perot in appealing to large numbers of disaffected Americans. What is most significant about Perot is that rather than toning down the nationalist note in his sermons, he has amplified and sharpened it. I am writing the week before Labor Day, which Mr. Perot has designated as the day on which he will launch his counterattack against NAFTA.

Item two: the disarray of the political parties, who cannot keep their factions in line. The cowardly and unscrupulous Richard Gephardt continues to challenge the Democratic leadership on NAFTA, and if it were anyone but Gephardt, one might be tempted to ascribe his persistence to principle. Gephardt might be wrong, but he must be calculating on the unpopularity of NAFTA to propel him, at the least, into the Speaker’s chair, and maybe even into the White House.

Item three: California. All three of California’s leading political figures have begun to talk about nationalist issues. All my life I have been hearing that California is America’s future, that some day we shall all be deracinated consumers living in developments that are neither neighborhoods nor communities, forming households without marriage, and worshiping in churches whose only faith is in the future and whose only doctrine is self-satisfaction.

California’s current troubles arc a paradigm for the rest of the nation: high taxes driving employers out of state, an influx of aliens that is overburdening the state’s prisons, swelling its welfare rolls, and turning its schools into a multicultural Babel. Dianne Feinstein, California’s liberal pragniatist senator, recently went to the border to deliver this simple message: the United States can no longer afford to be Mexico’s welfare system. She could be the first woman President.

Throughout her career, Feinstein has been a political realist, and her conversion is not too surprising, especially since the struggle to control immigration has been led by such pragmatist Democrats as Dick Lamm. What is more surprising is the rapid evolution of Governor Pete Wilson from liberal Republican to an arch-nationalist who wants to stanch the flow of immigrants. Wilson has even adopted the position that the children of illegal immigrants should not be made citizens. This is cutting-edge nationalism—German law and now French policy—but it is rarely seen in the United States outside the pages of Chronicles. If Dianne Feinstein ever does run for President, it is just possible she will be opposed by Pete Wilson—if his newborn nationalism is enough to get him reelected governor.

If NAFTA passes, as it probably will, that may well prove to be a good thing in the long run. As the American economy goes sour, more and more of what we used to call Reagan Democrats will blame both Clinton and the Rockefeller-Ford- Bush-Dole Republicans for the hard times, and NAFTA will be the symbolic act of betrayal, around which a nationalist political movement will be organized. People may begin to equate their own hard times with American boys dying in Somalia and with the national humiliation we shall inevitably be suffering as sovereignty oozes out of the United States and into the United Nations.

How big such a movement will be and who will jump on board and try to steer it, is anybody’s guess. However, there is a parallel we might look to for hints of things to come. When Jimmy Carter decided to ratify the Panama Canal treaty, he had the support of the leadership of both parties and the endorsement of the multinational corporations, the big unions, and the major media outlets, but it was the last straw for Richard Viguerie, Howard Phillips, and Paul Weyrich, the leaders of the New Right coalition that changed, for a time, the complexion of the Republican Party and put Ronald Reagan in the White House.

As things turned out, they might have saved their energy, but the New Right established a number of “conservative” themes that will not go away, and the most important of these themes is the conjunction of Christian populism—life issues, textbook and school battles, pornography—with nationalist foreign policy. The reaction of the conservative establishment was a mixture of opportunism and contempt. New Right leaders proved they could get candidates elected and galvanize popular protest, but they refused, at least at first, to kowtow to the billionaires who owned the Republican Party. The symbolic leader of the conservative movement was, at that time, William F. Buckley, whom some of our readers will remember as a witty polemicist in his youth, a sort of Rush Limbaugh with a Yale B.A. When Patrick Buchanan was writing that the Panama Canal was “the right issue at the right time in the right place to say, ‘Thus far and no farther,'” Mr. Buckley took the lead in supporting the giveaway.

Some of Buckley’s reasons were sound—the canal was a potent symbol of American colonialism and a source of our unpopularity in Latin America, but what he could not understand (and never will) is the American character. Even those of us who opposed American colonialism were irritated by the ease with which a communist thug was able to bully the United States into giving up a piece of strategic real estate. Some of us might have been willing to give the whole country back to Colombia, from whom we stole it—but to surrender it for some vague principle of internationalism was a shameful act of cowardice, no matter how “just,” that is expedient, it might have seemed in the eyes of the international business community.

The Republican elite, which includes most Manhattan conservative leaders, was challenged by the 70’s New Right, and they arc still going about the business of selling their country to tile highest international bidder. The editors of National Review and the Wall Street Journal are wildly enthusiastic for NAFTA, but this time around they do not even have the excuse of international communism. Like the old internationalists who were willing to betray their country for the sake of an ideology, these new internationalists—that is, those who are not simple opportunists—are ideologues who, in the name of free trade and international order, are eager to throw young Americans out of work and into a U.N. peace-keeping force to make the world safe for the Fortune 500, and they are the proper object of the popular outrage that is so far confined to venting itself on radio talk shows and Perot love-ins.

Here is the best scenario that we can hope for, that is those of us who love our country. If Clinton can continue to drive this country down at the same brisk rate with which he has begun his administration, and if the Republican internationalists continue to support his efforts to erase the border between the United States and Mexico, then we can expect an upsurge of popular nationalism that will reform or destroy both political parties. The Italians are, as usual, way ahead of us. They were the first country to go national-socialist back in the 20’s; they were the first country to ship immigrants en masse back where they came from; they are the home of the first articulate movement that aims at breaking up a modern state; and nearly 50 years ago, when one of their leaders sold out his country to a foreign power (Germany) and an internationalist ideology (Nazism), he found himself hanging upside-down from a window with his female accomplice, spat upon by a jeering crowd.