In Nazi Germany, people harked to the traditional ‘blood-and-soil’ ethnic sort of nationalism.The result was that more than 6 million Jews were killed in the name of ‘blood-and-soil’ nationalist values. This was in stark contrast to the nationalism that originated in France during Napoleon’s era, which resorted to civic nationalism and endorsed liberal values.
It is troubling that many countries are still shifting from universal, civic nationalism towards ethnic nationalism. As this piece in The Economist states that positive patriotism has taken the form of negative nationalism.
The most recent example of this is Donald Trump, who ran his presidential campaign, purely by endorsing hate and racism. His campaign agendas included building a wall along the Mexican border, deporting illegal immigrants and ‘making America great again’.
Staying true to his electoral promises, one of his first executive orders was the infamous ‘travel ban’, by which he banned people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States (US). Inspired by populism, the trick here is to use simple and direct language – for example, “we’ll make America great again.” Complexities are not necessary. Just cater to the majority and you have the winning recipe. False ideas are repeated time and again – till everyone believes them to be absolute truths.
In fact, the economic depression of 2008 has a lot to do with this sudden rise of the right. People believed that the ‘elites’ had failed them. They believed that their jobs had gone to the immigrants, and that liberal values were to be blamed for that. They needed a change. Moreover, someone needed to tell them that America was going to be great again. That ‘someone’ turned out to be Donald Trump.
In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is pro-capitalism. However, he is also a lifelong member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which seeks to establish India as a ‘Hindu rashtra’. The ideology of Hindutva intends to represent all Hindus, who constitute about 80% of India’s population.
Meanwhile, Muslims continue to be targeted in the name of the ‘holy cow’. The RSS also exerts a huge sway over education and media in India. Voices of dissent are being strategically curbed by changing ‘debates’ into ‘binaries’. Anyone who voices his/her dissent is often tagged as an ‘anti-national’. In this regard, media houses (especially) are being selectively and strategically targeted.
The consequences of this sudden rise of the right can also be detrimental for the European Union (EU). In France, although Marine Le Pen, the charismatic far-right leader of the National Front (NF) has lost to Emmanuel Macron, the independent centrist leader, she still reached the second and final round and was able to garner a large number of votes.
Unfortunately Le Pen’s campaign was strikingly similar to Trump’s. She catered to people’s nostalgia, anxiety and antipathy towards the liberal international order. Just like Trump, she held the immigrants responsible for their economic problems. In fact, Le Pen promised to pull France out of the European Union (EU) by holding a ‘Frexit‘ referendum on their EU membership. Had Le Pen pulled this off, the EU could have been in a dire situation, with Britain already having decided to exit the EU.
Catering to the xenophobia among the people, Britain’s ‘Brexit’ vote in June 2016 was also the result of the sentiments of people turning. Activists rallied against immigrants, while shouting, “We want our country back.” It’s no surprise therefore that Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), the politician held most-responsible for Brexit, visited Trump.
A similar story is being played out in Turkey, where it’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who has vowed to build a ‘New Turkey’. Erdogan’s victory in the recently-conducted referendum now gives him unprecedented powers, including that of dissolving the Parliament whenever he wants to. He has complete control over the country now, and can take it in any direction he likes. This, despite many reports claiming that the votes were manipulated, and that Erdogan had cheated his way towards victory.
In rich countries, pessimism plays a major role behind all this. The existing inequality hurts people too. One of the major factors behind the rise of Trump and Le Pen is the belief that things were better in the past. The past is continuously glorified, while minorities and immigrants are always blamed for the existing troubles. In this situation, ‘simple promises’ outlining ‘easy fixes’ obviously attract the masses.
Social media is being used very effectively here. Rumours are spread and hate-mongering is done by propping up ‘alternative facts (alt-facts)’. One of the prime examples of this is Breitbart News, an initiative by Steven Bannon, who was the chief strategist in Trump’s campaign.
The apparent failures of the centre-aligned parties and the left have also contributed to the rise of the right. People are easily giving in to the promises of such leaders, because the majority is being influenced to believe that they are exploited and victimised by the minorities.
Interestingly, in the US, only 37% of the people in the 18-29 age group voted for Trump. According to an international survey, in France, 77% of the people in the 18-24 year age group favour globalisation. It is very essential that the next generation needs to resist this new wave of nationalism, so that we may once again live in a cosmopolitan world.