April 18, 2019

Guest column: Revamped nationalism caused Trump’s election

By Stephen Swai, an Afropolitin study abroad student from Tanzania studying at Webster’s Leiden campus

When a crisis hits, people have a tendency to retreat, opting for the coziness of the familiar. They tell themselves perhaps the problem they are facing is caused by others. They decide to build walls and chase away the out-group.

This is what happened between 1929 and 1936, under the Mexican Repatriation Program of Herbert Hoover, where many Mexicans were forced to return to Mexico in order to free up jobs for those considered “true Americans.” During a crisis, in-group bias pervades.

Around the world, the result of this election brought surprises and questions. Is America misogynistic, racist and xenophobic by electing Trump? Was there a double standard between the candidates? Couldn’t America have decided to rewrite its history?

Beneath the surface, there is a pattern. A movement. Narendra Modi in India, Marine Le Pen in France, Shinzo Abe in Japan, Xi Jinping in China, Mariano Rajoy in Spain, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and now, Donald Trump in the U.S.

Was the result a coincidence or merely a reminder of how individuals behave in times of crisis? Emotions aside, this election reminds us that what’s happening now is not new.

There is a trend in ideology that is characterized by a nationalistic tendency, and to a large degree a tendency of right-wing extremism not just in America but also around the globe.

Brexit was a sentiment driven in part by the dissatisfaction of the Brits towards the Eurocrats. “Make America Great Again” was a sentiment driven in part by the dissatisfaction of Americans toward the Washington elite.

Brexit came to represent the need for restrictive immigration policies, just as “Make America Great Again” has become a mouthpiece for this idea of restructuring the status quo of the immigration policy by erecting a wall.

But this movement isn’t just highlighted by Brexit. It happened many years ago during the economic problems of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The Great Depression led to the rise of the nationalistic ideology throughout Europe as a way of dealing with the economic downturn. To many, nationalism seemed to offer economic improvement.

But this new nationalism, according to professor Nouriel Roubini of NYU’s Stern School of Business, advocates for trade barriers, choosing domestic workers over foreign workers and imposing strict anti-immigration policies.

History has been telling us since the economic crisis of 2008 that this would be a period of the right-wing nationalistic ideology. The same history is reminding us that an economic crisis coupled with liberalism will be the perfect ingredient for the fall of the left-wing policies.

Wasn’t the Democratic Party then supposed to anticipate Trump winning the election? Wasn’t the party supposed to know that the economic downturns would lead to Americans opting for a nationalistic ideology? All for a change, just like the change they found in Barack Obama in 2008?

We might be prone to think that Hillary lost because of the double standard, the foundation, the email server and misogyny. But history reminds us that perhaps the democrats might better help the party by analyzing the loss from the perspective of the rising nationalism.

Some have wondered if Bernie Sanders might have prevailed if he had won the primaries. We will never know. Was he nationalistic enough?

But here is what we know about nationalism of the Great Depression. Extremist divisive ideas and fascism were born from its womb.

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