Hop, Skip and a Jump: How Populism Becomes Nationalism - By Greer Clem
Dust off those history books because nationalism is back with a vengeance. I'm sure many of you are thinking, "Well, did it really ever go anywhere?" and this is a valid point. Like any trend, nationalism comes and goes with the tides of national discord, only ever laying dormant and never truly silenced. The reason I want to talk about it today, however, is because we've been hearing a lot about populism, so how the heck did we get to nationalism? As it turns out, in today's climate, they are much one and the same.
Donald Trump's campaign was, in large part, based on populist assertions: that the elite were exploiting the hard-working, ordinary people of America and Donald Trump was here to restore us to our previous glory. I can barely write that sentence without collapsing under the weight of the irony, but I guess enough people were sold. So Donald Trump wins and barges into office, declaring within the first week of his presidency that he will indeed build a wall between the US and Mexico and that his crackdown on immigration will return American jobs. Without acknowledging it, he has gone from populist to nationalist in record time, and this is worth discussing. This past Tuesday, Donald Trump revealed a sweeping deportation policy that publicizes criminal records of any immigrants and demands their immediate arrest and deportation. Under the Obama administration, this policy was restricted to those who had committed violent crimes, and to be sure, the new revisions will create a Gestapo-like relationship between immigrants and police (not that their relationship was great to begin with). This is about as far-reaching as Donald Trump could make a deportation policy without treading into Hitler territory, which is why he continues to hind behind his populist facade.
Democracies around the world are acting similarly; cracking down on immigration under the guise of populism. In France, we see it through the rise of Marine Le Pen, who has gained massive support from factory workers, soldiers, and farmers over the past few months. The party she is now spearheading, the "National Front," gained prominence in the 1970s as support from xenophobic French nationalists grew in the years after Algeria gained independence. Islamaphobia, long prevalent in France especially because of their relationship with Algeria, has been experiencing a vocal resurgence spurred on by Le Pen's rise in popularity. Le Pen has defended her populist slogan, that she advocates a government "by the people for the people," but it has become increasingly clear that "the people" does not apply to immigrants. It's only a short step from populism to white nationalism, and sadly I fear the same for America. When your party is advocating a populist agenda in large part based on deportation, it's a logical assumption "by the people and for the people" means by the whites and for the whites. Donald Trump will never outright say this, nor will Marine Le Pen, but this is their true agenda.
Le Pen's rise is particularly concerning in light of Brexit. The European Single Market, completed in 1992, allows the free movement of goods and services, money, and people within the E.U. as if it were a single country. This "freedom of movement" policy abolishes "any discrimination based on nationality between workers of the member states." Britain's decision to leave the E.U. disengages them from this immigrant-friendly economic policy and shines a light on their own nationalist resurgence. Those who called for Britain's exit from the E.U. said that the problem with the Freedom of Movement Policy is that it encourages mass migration from poorer to richer countries, limiting jobs for British nationals (again, whites). Certainly, this is not a concern that should be dismissed; I understand the frustration behind this sentiment. When you are allowed to move freely between economies, it is only natural that a stronger economy would attract a larger number of migrants, resulting in intense competition within the national job market. However, the decision to leave the E.U. in essence sends the message that migrants are not welcome in the British economy. What then of all those currently in Britain who are not nationals? If they stay, there is sure to be an "us vs. them" mentality that will erode internal relations and create racial hostility. If they are forced to leave, then that leaves us with a fascist taste in our mouths and sets a terrifying example for the rest of Europe. The Brexit referendum passed because enough people felt that they were putting more into the E.U. than they were getting out; that they wanted a return to government "by the people and for the people." However, in the months since the referendum passed, it has become increasingly clear that where populism is invoked, nationalism resides.
So now we have three of the top ten world economies returning to nationalism, and this is bad news for everyone. Aside from the fact that it is condemning migrant workers to a life of poverty and degradation, it is also condemning globalization and the world economy as a whole. Yes, Britain being the largest economy in the E.U. can certainly be frustrating, as it means more immigration, but that's part of their responsibility as the glue that holds the European economy together. If France, Britain, and the US return to a nationalist economic policy, half of the world economy shuts down. I'm not saying this is exactly what will happen, but it's not too far out of reach. For someone who is so obviously afraid of China's growing economic power, I am surprised Donald Trump hasn't thought this through more. Globalization exists for a reason. Beyond economics, the growing tides of nationalism are eroding race relations across the world. If you're worried about ISIS, this is the kind of stuff they thrive on. So, the question that goes beyond the next four years, beyond Donald Trump and America, beyond Brexit: what do we do?
I wish I had a better answer, but all I can offer is this: educate yourself. Now more than ever is the time to gain appreciation for other cultures, to realize that America is a nation of immigrants and we refuse to compromise this. Since the end of World War II, globalization has been seen as the greatest tool to combat enmity and today is no different. Nationalism only breeds intolerance, not just in America, but in Britain, France, and worldwide. As democracies, we are left with our voices. We must use them to call for tolerance and inclusion: protest deportations, protect our immigrant culture both here and abroad, stand together. What separates me from an American immigrant is nothing more than the circumstances into which we were born, and I will fight for their right to seek a better life just as I will fight to enrich my own, for both are of equal importance.