Go figure. President Trump!
President elect Trump promises to reduce regulations, increase infrastructure spending, and cut taxes, which lead many to conclude that growth in inflation and interest rates will result. He has sworn to ‘Put America First. Demanding respect from a freeloading world that takes leaders from Washington for fools’. He will ‘no longer surrender this country or its people to the false song of globalism’. Mr. Trump is angry. So, apparently, are those who elected him.
Welcome to the new nationalism. This is the first time in a century, great and rising powers are in the thrall to various siren songs of chauvinism; Along with Mr. Trump are Russia, China, Turkey and France embracing pessimistic views of foreign affairs.
Nationalism is a slippery concept, at its best it unites a country around common values. This ‘civic nationalism’ is conciliatory, leads to Peace Corps and universal values such as freedom and equality; in contrast to the second, ‘ethnic nationalism’ which is zero sum, aggressive and nostalgic. It draws on race or history to set nations apart. It leads to war.
We risk shifting from the universal, civic nationalism towards the blood and soil, ethnic sort. Mr. Trump’s populism is a blow to civic nationalism. The US has historically backed rules-based order. Trump threatens to weaken that commitment even as ethnic nationalism is strengthening elsewhere. Putin has shunned cosmopolitan liberal values for a distinctly Russian mix of Slavic tradition and Orthodox Christianity. In Turkey Erdogan has turned away from the EU, and from peace talks with the Kurds who make up over 30% of Turkey’s populace. He favors strident, Islamic nationalism that is quick to detect any slight. India’s Modi remains outward looking but has radical ethnic nationalist Hindu groups preaching chauvinism and intolerance. France has consistently pursued statist and protectionist drawbridge-up policies. France goes to the polls in the shadow of Marine le Pen, leader of the National Front, soon.
Meanwhile, Chinese nationalism has become angry and vengeful. Since 1990, Chinese children have been receiving a daily dose of ‘patriotic education’ centered around the Han people: everyone else is a second-class citizen.
The Eu, the world’s greatest experiment in ‘post-nationalism’ has foundered. The Eu was expected to transcend national rivalries. In large parts of the Eu this never happened. The last time America turned inward, was after WWI. The consequences were calamitous.
Mr Trump’s new nationalism tends to produce intolerance, and to feed doubts about the virtue and loyalties of minorities. Regional and global problems will become harder to solve. Even if Trump enacts even a fraction of his mercantilist rhetoric, he risks neutering the WTO. For smaller countries that are today protected by global rules- it will be a harsher and more unstable world.
Trump needs to realize that his policies will unfold in the context of other countries’ jealous nationalism. Disengaging will not cut America off from the world so much as leave it vulnerable to the turmoil and strife that the nationalism engenders. Trump needs help to reach reality.