Nationalism trumps liberalism and globalisation
Trump swept to power on the White vote, primarily the White working class but also a significant majority of almost all sections of that demographic. The deindustrialisation of America caused by globalisation has hurt the White working class disproportionally as skilled jobs have been shipped abroad. The damage caused by this trend was compounded by the fear that Whites feel about losing the ascendancy they have always enjoyed. In Britain the loss of sovereignty and jobs to the EU and other EU nationals respectively were the deciding factors in Brexit. In Eastern Europe there are fears of immigrants coming from Syria and other conflict zones.
Russia has been flexing its muscle in the Ukraine and other former eastern European satellites because of its loss of influence and power in that region, economic stagnation and, Putin’s desire to let the world know that it is still a power to be reckoned with. China is flexing its muscles, laying claim to large swaths of the China Sea. China has largely abandoned its communist ideology and embraced capitalism, giving rise to a new focus, namely, nationalism. In the Arab world the religious turmoil has a nationalist flavour in the form of a pan-Arab Muslim “caliphate” espoused by the so-called ISIS, with the Sunnis at the helm. In Africa’s largest country, Nigeria a new, unique leader elected last year has been pushing that country to rely more on its own resources and to wean the country of its dependency on imports, to the consternation of “free trade” ideologues.
Irony verging on the perverse
The nationalist fervour is full of ironies verging on the perverse. Trump’s hotels were built with Chinese steel, he used foreign workers, many of the products used in various enterprises are produced outside the U.S. and he has significant investments and used finance from the Middle East and China, areas he has castigated.
The White working class may not be aware that Trump’s policies may actually hurt them. The central plank of his economic platform, tax cuts have not only proved ineffective – Bush tried them but his administration experienced anaemic economic growth – but will exacerbate the huge income inequality, with high income earners getting a disproportionate share of the tax cuts. The hefty increase in import duties on Chinese imports will raise the price of consumer goods. If he abolishes Obamacare, as promised in the campaign, many of them will lose health insurance and/or the significant subsidies the system gives to low income families. On the whole therefore low income families will gain very little or even be worse off economically.
Many of grandees of the Republican Party, the billionaires that bankroll the party, are largely to blame for the deindustrialisation of the U.S., having shifted production abroad to benefit from cheap labour to maximise profits. Indeed the previous Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney had taken a leading role in this when he took over companies with U.S. production and shifted operations abroad. The American public, including many in the working class have become addicted to cheap imported goods and many of their unions’ pension funds have been party to the country’s deindustrialisation by investing in companies that shifted production abroad to maximise returns.
Trump’s policies will result in a huge increase in the U.S. budget deficit. A central mantra of the Republican Party’s opposition to Obama, led by the Tea party movement, has been its opposition to budget deficits. And whereas Obama’s stimulus spending which did not receive a single Republican vote in Congress, that most economists attribute to the U.S. weathering the great recession better than most other developed economies, most of Trump’s deficit will go to tax cuts for the rich and defence spending.
Finally, it should be noted that Trump’s slogan, making America great again is hollow given his party’s record in power. Bush, the last Republican president inherited a budget surplus from Democratic Clinton that he quickly turned into a deficit, yes through tax cuts. Whereas Clinton had overseen record job creation and economic growth, Bush gave us the great recession and it was Democrat Obama, presiding over America’s longest running period of job creation that made America great again, a feat envied by many other developed countries. And yes, Trump wants to use the same tax cuts, remove sensible regulations and start trade wars that may instead of making America great end up with another recession, this is indeed perverse.
Trump the nationalist is the son of a Scottish immigrant and his current and previous wife were East Europeans immigrants. The fear of immigrants among working class Whites goes against the history of the U.S. Indeed mass immigration in recent history started in Europe which saw millions of its citizens flee poverty, political repression and religious intolerance to the Americas, Australia, New Zealand, Africa and Asia. The fear by White Americans of being swamped by immigrants therefore ignores the basic fact, that most of them came from Europe and displaced the American Indians – there were no passport controls then. This fear is rather the fact that most of these new immigrants are not White and the fear that the share of the non-White population is growing faster. Europe is opposed to refugees but its population is stagnant and/or in decline – that is probably one of the main reasons why Angela Merkel took in a million refugees from Syria.
In Eastern Europe some of the countries with the strongest opposition to refugees such as Poland and Hungary have had hundreds of thousands of their citizens moving to the UK, Germany and other EU states for work. Russia is claiming additional territory when its population is in decline. China is at loggerheads with Vietnam, a country that it strongly supported during and after the Vietnam War. It is in territorial disputes with many other south East Asian countries and yet it wants to draw them into its orbit.
A quarter of a century ago, Francis Fukuyama’s End of History predicted a symbiotic link between capitalism, democracy and liberalism as the way forward. There have been rapid changes since Fukuyama’s prognosis that the author never envisioned. Capitalism and globalisation have brought huge benefits to the world, in particular, it has seen a huge increase in trade flows, economic growth and more open markets. However, that symbiotic link has not evolved as the author envisaged, at least not in a systematic way.
Interestingly the Fukuyama’s prognosis has had reasonable fertile ground in South America, Asia and Africa. These regions still face enormous challenges because economic growth rates are still inadequate relative to high population growth and ethnic and religious issues have been far more important than he envisaged. In such an environment, democracy and liberalism are often not particularly relevant to every-day life hence the rise of ISIS.
Nationalism cannot be dismissed by politicians but they need to set the record straight. They need to point out that immigration does have some positive economic benefits and particularly in the face of stagnant and/or declining population in much of the developed world. Unfortunately, this is not the agenda of purveyors of populism, as a recent BBC report of an event by Trump supporters show. The event showed the group celebrating the Trump victory because it heralded a victory for White supremacy.
Does nationalism have a place, yes it does? Does globalisation in the form of the movement of goods, services and people have a future, yes it does? America and Europe need to use nationalism to encourage their consumers to buy domestically produced goods. The European Union project needs to adopt pragmatic policies that do not ride roughshod over the national characters of its member states. Nationalism is particularly relevant in fragile states in Africa, Asia and South America where it is often a useful glue to pull together disparate ethnic and religious communities.
Rogers is Principal Consultant at Media and Event Management Oxford.