As you may have heard, unless you were living in a ditch, there was an election recently. Spoilers: Donald Trump, a man who spent the whole campaign calling Latino’s racist, making fun of disabled people, trying to ban Muslims from entering America, being generally sexist, and saying the word “wrong” after everything Clinton said without a hint of irony, won this election, causing the second time within a few months when an apparently great nation made a decision to vote for something which makes their country particularly less great in the eyes of the rest of the world.
As is blatantly obvious to anyone, Trumps triumph and Brexit has a lot of common, a lot of harping on about making a country “great again” without having any substance behind it, both claimed to be anti-establishment while being led by some of some of the people you would most associate with the establishment prior to the events (of which both exploited ordinary workers far more than their opponents), both have allowed and arguably encouraged racial tensions to rise, in the case of Trump, with also a dash of homophobia and misogyny. What both have most significantly in common is what is also common with the rise of radical right parties in Europe such as the National Front in France and the Freedom Party in Austria, and that is a manipulation of nationalism combined with a powerful story designed to take advantage of those who had suffered through the last 30 years of free-market economics and globalization.
I studied Nationalism at university, and on its own, it is not an ideology. Nationalism, or Patriotism, is just pride of belonging to your own state or nation. Calling it a political ideology on its own is like calling me a political Norwichist for the choice of football team I support and for being proud of the city I come from. Nationalism only becomes something else when it is combined with other concepts. For example, the SNP tied the pride of being Scottish with the analysis that the Scots were poorer and neglected by the rest of Britain and for that reason should be Independent. The SNP’s form of nationalism is important, as unlike the common form of nationalism around at the minute, it manages to put its nationalism round a pride of being European and of being a Social Democracy.
The traditional right wing form of Nationalism established in England for example is completely different. What the likes of Farage and the right of the Conservative Party has used Nationalism to legitimise their world view that Britain isn’t just something to be proud of, but is also naturally better than the rest of the world. This is justified by a history of the nation being greater in posture once, this being colonial history in Britain, or the days of being a dominant superpower with America. This also has in it a natural sense of superiority over other peoples, which sees everyone who isn’t British as a second priority within the country, and tied to this, is that back in the day, there was a perceived natural order which was held together by authoritarian governance. Also back in the day in both countries, the racial makeup of the population were a lot more dominantly Caucasian, or in America’s case, the African-American population were officially 2nd class citizens, this gives this nostalgia of the past type of nationalism a element of racism. It is unsurprising therefore, that this view of nationalism has helped the rise of racial attacks and racism as the movement has got bigger. Of course this type of nationalism was going on in America long before Trump, and all Trump’s scaremongering about Muslims and Latinos really represents is the resulting attitudes that Republican attitude towards nation and race creates, at its most blatant form.
Of course, there is a further agenda to this. This agenda is ideologically a conservative motivation of maintaining the status quo. The Republican establishment often used the term anti-American to stop policies like Obamacare, not because it was anti-American, but because they needed a better soundbite than “this policy may help poor people but it will hurt the big businesses which are paying me”, and in many ways, this is the same with the return of overtly scaremongering and racist attitudes within the British press. For example, paper headlines like some of the recent Daily Mail and The Sun, most significantly being calling the judges “enemies of the people” for interpreting a law correctly, are not done necessarily because Rupert Murdoch is or isn’t racist, but that it firstly keeps selling papers, and secondly, one side of a country calling the other side “anti British” or “remoaners” or whatever else they want to call people like me benefits big corporations like News International because while everyone’s fighting, it can get on continuing with the same broken economic policies which benefits them while it hurts the many without scrutiny. Obviously Brexit and Trump will hurt many companies, the papers not necessarily one of them. When Trump won the Republican nomination it became clear that like when the Brexit result came in, this ugly version of nationalism and mutated that conservative politicians and large companies were no longer in control of it. Of course Trump’s rise can’t be explained just by the rise of this nationalism, it also hacks into the fact Clinton was a bad candidate with no clear vision of where she wanted America to go, something that fellow Democrat Bernie Saunders certainly didn’t act. It was also the fact Trump tapped into traditional conservative policy such as tax cuts which would have persuaded fiscal Republicans who were perhaps nervous about Trumps rhetoric.
And to add to this problem, in England at least, there is no counter view of nationalism. Back in the 1970s, Ted Heath and one nation Tories at the time argued that it was a sense of British pride to at the same time be pro integration and welcoming, as he pushed for us to enter the organisation which would eventually become the EU. From our current liberal or even left-wing politicians in the lead up to Brexit, with the exception Gordon Brown, we saw none of this ideal of Britishness. In fact part of the problem with liberals, and I include myself in this statement, is our squeamishness around the idea of nationalism. Before Brexit, we often, due to the UKIPite nationalist character which had already developed long before Brexit, laughed the idea of nationalism off, seeing it simply as a distraction to the real issues within politics. But now it is clear to me is that this rise of right-wing nationalism is something we needed to counter with an alternative form, not belittle while it slowly grew like a cancer. Worse than that, a leading member of the Social-Liberal movement stop the war coalition claimed that it should always act against the interests of the West and even towards the efforts of Russia. When groups associated with the left wing of the Labour party are saying things like this it is no wonder that I feel that politically people like me are currently stuck in a losing battle for the soul of the west.
If those like me who describe ourselves as Liberal want to defeat this riding wave of divisive nationalism, we must start speaking up about the things we like or used to like about our country again, and to channel an alternative form of nationalism which can take on the current one eroding all the work that was made to create tolerance in the west since 1945, like the example of what the SNP have managed in Scotland. We need to say its not British to dodge taxes, and its not British to be racist. In essence, we need to make a more convincing story about the destiny our our countries while embedding liberal and socialist values. The most proud I felt of being British was the 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, which was a celebration of Britain being a tolerant and multicultural hub while at the same time being a cultural masterclass. We need a nationalism which can bring the fight to the likes of Farage and the right wing press at the same time. And its not just us who need to do this, it is the whole of the Western World, Germany manages to convey pride without harking back to its dark history, its that type of nationalism we need. If we, as a liberal Western World, fail to do this, ignore Brexit and Trump, it will be Le Pen in France next.
PS: Over Dramatic ending yes, I seemed to forget that the ramblings of a new graduate only get 100 views tops