Thursday, May 5, 2016

Trump And The Nationalist Moment

These last two days I have been profoundly depressed by the fact that Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, and that many members of that party are falling in behind him. Of course there are the usual academic leftists trolling that both sides are neoliberalism blah blah blah, but they are missing the point and the threat. As anyone could have predicted, the news media have also missed his fundamental nature, speaking of "blue collar anger" and "people left behind" without stating the obvious: Trump is an ethno-nationalist and that's why people vote for him. 
These groups, and so many others, act is if nationalism is not a vital force in American politics, when it has traditionally played a profoundly powerful role. Trump's brand of ethno-nationalism can be traced back to Andrew Jackson, the Know Nothings, Madison Grant, George Wallace, and Pat Buchanan. Like Jackson, he has managed to make that appeal broad enough to push close to the apex of power.  By getting the nomination, and even if he loses in a landslide, Trump has effectively legitimized this hateful brand of nationalism. Once a candidate, any candidate, gets a major party nod the media acts as if directly confronting them, rather than reporting "he said-she said" is beyond the pale.  

Just chew on that for a moment. A man who has called on a ban on all Muslims into this country (an unprecedented act of religious discrimination in this nation's history), a man who has demonized immigrants and called for a wall to be built with Mexico, a man who has called for an invasion of Iraq to confiscate its oil, a man who has made overtures to Vladimir Putin, a man who has called to murder the families of those deemed terrorists, will not be treated as a crackpot or bigot, but as a legitimate politician with ideas deserving respect and consideration. 

I don't think Trump is going to win, but I said the same thing months ago, and so can no longer be so sure of myself on this count. Any candidate with major party backing and a compliant media facing off against an opponent with potential scandals over her head still has a chance. Trump is also following a worldwide trend. Nationalism is on the march across the globe, evidence that the new globalist millennium predicted in the years after the fall of the Berlin Wall was merely a temporary condition. Heck, I would date its end in 2001, giving that global world a maximum of twelve years.

In Europe the nationalist Freedom Party came in first place in the recent first round of presidential elections in Austria. In Germany, a country where nationalism was once considered outside the pale, the Alternative for Germany Party is gaining ground. In Britain a coming referendum may take the UK out of the EU, and Scotland narrowly decided against secession last year. In Eastern Europe Hungary and Poland have moved in a hard right nationalist direction. Most menacingly, Vladimir Putin has maintained power through claims of a return to nationalist greatness and the retaking of territory in the Ukraine.

A similar nationalist orientation is very apparent in other parts of the world, too. This is especially the case in Asia's two most populous nations. The BJP in India is an explicitly Hindu nationalist organization. Chinese leader Xi Jingping has emphasized Chinese nationalism. Heck, ISIS might be an international movement, but its goal is the creation of a new nation state.

I recently read a book about the creation of the post-WWI world order.  Those behind it really thought that they had created lasting peace in the world. It's something we can mock today, but in say 1927 it wouldn't have been so far-fetched. The major powers were limiting their arms and Germany appeared to have transformed itself into an economically healthy democracy. Of course, that all changed in the 1930s, and nations like Germany, Japan, and Italy decided that they had no use for the spirit of Locarno.  I fear in our own uncertain economic times with demagogues on the loose and nationalism rising that we are living in a similar era.

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