Comment on Swedish Radio's Sunday show, Godmorgon världen, January 22, 2017
donald trump and the Return of Nationalism
At his inauguration on January 20, 2017, the 45th president of the United States made abundantly clear to the world that the world no longer is America’s concern, and that a world order which so far had been built on that very premise would have to find something else to build on.
Like walls between nations instead of open borders, isolationism and protectionism instead of international agreements and treaties, the right of the mighty instead of a common system of international rights and obligations that was instituted at the end of the WW II to make sure that the nationalist outbreaks and breakdowns that twice had ravaged the world would never happen again.
As nationalism now seems to have risen from the dead, promising to make country after country great again, and with an American president promising to make his country great again by protecting its borders “from the ravages of other countries”, then anything could happen – and perhaps happen again.
This is not because the new US president is an inherently unpredictable person with a demonstrative lack of self-control, although this clearly aggravates the current world order-problem, but because he threatens to turn the mightiest country on earth into a nationalist bulwark.
Still, Brexit didn’t need Donald Trump to come about, neither did the nationalist parties and movements, and perhaps soon governments to be, who in the rest of Europe want to follow in the footsteps of UK and put their nations first and turn their backs on that common order which was ultimately founded to prevent what had just happened from happening again.
Neither is it because of Donald Trump that Russia and China have become increasingly nationalist in their rhetoric and high-handed in their actions and policies. Or that whole states are failing and whole regions are disintegrating and zones of uncontrolled violence and terror are spreading, without the protectors and guarantors of the world order being able to prevent it. The fact that the US under president Obama failed to do so was not due to lack of will but due to the hard-earned experience of impotence.
Last but not least, Donald Trump was elected US president in a world where the power to regulate the economy has increasingly abandoned the nation and its institutions and thereby abandoned people and communities to the mercy of economic forces that they cannot influence and hardly see. When Theresa May threatened to turn the UK into a tax haven of sorts if the EU wouldn’t let her country leave on its own terms, this was not an expression of national power but of national powerlessness in face of global economic actors.
Or more precisely, the power to compete with other nations in undermining its own tax base.
You didn’t need Donald Trump then, to understand that the post-war world order, the American world order of you so wish, were about to end. What is still hard to understand however, is that America now has a president that explicitly wishes to destroy it instead of defending and protecting it. That this also happens to be a person who is pathologically unpredictable, impulsive and stingy will only make matters worse.
The worst of the matter, as I see it, is the return of nationalism in our time.
Not only because it is an ideology which in the aggressively self-pitying and xenophobic form it is manifesting itself again has caused so much evil in history, but also because it is an ideology that today less than ever provides an answer to the problems and challenges of an increasingly interdependent world.
The present world order may be shaking in its foundations and there is good reason to worry about what might follow in its wake, but with Donald Trump as president of the United States we may all be heading for a full-scale global experiment in nationalist escapism and populist self-delusion.
Let’s hope we can all bring it to a halt before that has happened which was never to happen again.