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Isolationism in America: From the 1930s to Modern Times Essay

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Updated: Oct 21st, 2020


Ever since the USA emerged from the Second World War as a nuclear superpower, it has been present in the international arena as the only counterbalance to the power of the USSR. After the end of the Cold War, the USA accepted economic globalization, while at the same conducting military and economic interventions against the countries it deemed undemocratic. Some of the more recent interventions include the invasion of Iraq and Libya, the military operations in Syria and Afghanistan as well as political and economic interventions in Ukraine, Iran, and North Korea (Yoon, 2016).

Being the only remaining superpower, the USA assumed the leading position in the international arena. However, with the election of President Trump, American foreign policy began changing. His first year of the presidency was marked by a crackdown on illegal immigrants, the reduction of migration flows into the country, economic protectionism, coupled with increased military spending and greater commitment to operations in Syria and Ukraine. The purpose of this paper is to compare and contrast Trump’s isolationist tendencies with American isolationism in the 1930s.

American Isolationism in the 1930s

American isolationism of the 1930s arose as a combination of economic struggles during the Great Depression combined with the suffering caused by tragic losses during the First World War (Doenecke, 2017). The majority of the American public advocated for non-involvement with conflicts in the Middle East and Asia as well as non-entanglement in European politics. American influence, according to the isolationist framework, was to extend only across both American continents and largely involve trade and protection of American economic interests.

During that time, the US withheld from participating in any large-scale conflicts and contributing to minuscule interventions in various countries in Latin America to protect American citizens and their businesses in the event of ongoing civil wars. Internal economic policies were defined by protectionism as the government imposed sanctions, tariffs, and quotas for various foreign goods. The Great Depression intensified the feelings of anti-immigrant nativism, which lead to the introduction of various restrictive policies, such as the Immigration Act of 1924, which imposed immigration quotas on all nations except for Canadians and Latin Americans (Underwood, 2017).

Trump’s Internal and Foreign Policies of 2017-2018

Although only one year has passed since President Trump came into office, it is possible to highlight certain tendencies in his foreign and domestic policies. His current domestic policy is aimed at reducing the migrant flow, bringing large corporations and industries back to the USA, and reducing unemployment (Leece, 2017). One of the examples of Trump’s intervention incorporate businesses is his deal with Carrier, which prevented the company from moving its factories from Indiana to Mexico. Another example involves him threatening to sanction several automotive giants who were planning to construct factories in Mexico to supply cars for the American domestic market (Leece, 2017).

Trump’s foreign policy, on the other hand, involves the retreat from major international agreements and associations, such as UNESCO and the Paris Climate Agreement (Kroenig, 2017). Also, he reduced the obligations of the USA to protect its allies in NATO, while at the same time pursuing an aggressive military agenda in the Middle East. The President expanded the country’s military budget while curtailing social programs. The American foreign office is engaged in aggressive diplomatic talks with China over its floating currency rates, as well as in the Korean crisis (Kroenig, 2017). Lastly, his latest decision involves sending “defensive weapons” to Ukraine, which will further escalate tensions between the US and Russia.


When comparing and contrasting American policies of the 1930s with the current course of President Trump, it is easy to see several similarities and differences between them. Trump’s domestic policies are aimed to protect the local market from extensive immigration from Mexico and other countries, the export of cheap Chinese goods, and the exodus of American companies to countries with cheap labor force (Pierce, Bolter, & Selee, 2018).

Tariffs and quotas are being imposed on a variety of products to protect small domestic producers and farmers (US Customs, 2018). These policies are the basis for Trump’s isolationism. However, his foreign policy is very different compared to the US isolationist policies of the 1930s. During that time, the USA had a marginal involvement in South America with the number of US Marines participating in the protection of US property and interests not exceeding 500 soldiers (Cha, 2016).

Trump does not follow the rules of political non-involvement, as he continues to exercise military, economic, and political power to forward US goals in various regions around the world. His foreign policy is more “selfish” than that of his predecessors as he seems to put the interest of America before the interests of its allies, and is willing to aggressively pursue them.

Trump’s agenda does not seem isolationist. His views on foreign and domestic policies resemble those of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, who was a proponent of US imperialism and combined protectionist domestic laws with an aggressive and expansive foreign policy (Underwood, 2017). He was the person to reject American membership in the League of Nations as it stood in the way of his vision for an American Empire.


Trump’s brand of isolationism is closer to the imperialist model of domestic and foreign policy as it combines protectionism with aggressive involvement in the affairs of other countries, the abandonment of international obligations, and expansion of the military complex. Although motivated to restore the country’s economy following the exodus of major corporations, Trump is unwilling to abandon the dominant international position that the US currently holds.


Cha, T. (2016). The return of Jacksonianism: The international implications of the Trump phenomenon. The Washington Quarterly, 39(4), 83-97.

Doenecke, J. D. (2017). . Web.

Leece, D. (2017). Towards new American isolationism? United Service, 68(1), 235-251.

Kroenig, M. (2017). The case for Trump’s foreign policy: The right people, the right positions. Foreign Affairs, 96(30), 1-5.

Pierce, S., Bolter, J., & Selee, A. (2018). Trump’s first year on immigration policy. Web.

Underwood, C. (2017). What the founders, the 1930s and Donald Trump say about the future of America at war. The Trumpet. Web.

US Customs and Border Protection. (2018). . Web.

Yoon, S. (2016). President Trump and the crisis on the Korean Peninsula. Monde Chinois, 4(28), 62-67.

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