Divide and conquer: Nationalism, identity politics and Western political morbidity

US political map Nov 2018

Gilad Atzmon writes:

I am not even remotely a Trump supporter, but I do think that he has managed to expose the spectrum of Western political morbidity, both left and right. Trump is the ultimate post-political icon – the symptom as well as the disease.
For the last four decades, the West has been subjected to an intense cultural and social revolution. The cause of “social justice” has made some fundamental changes in Western society. Elementary rights, such as the freedom to think openly, have been eradicated and replaced by a strict regime of correctness. In retrospect, it was reasonable to believe that there was little significant resistance to these social justice heroes. During that time it seemed that their agenda had prevailed. Just five years ago it looked as if the tyranny of correctness was here to stay. But then, unexpectedly, the tide changed.
First the Scottish referendum told us know that every other Scot wanted to separate from the United Kingdom. Soon afterwards, half of the British people voted to split from the European Union, and then, totally unexpectedly, Trump won the presidential election.
It was Trump’s victory that really brought the identity war to the fore. For whatever reason, it was Trump and his combative rhetoric that most clearly exposed the demarcation line that divides the West.
America, like the rest of the West, is split into identitarians and nationalists. Identitarians identify politically with their symptoms. These symptoms may be ethnic or cultural but most often are biological (skin colour, sexual orientation, gender, race, etc.). Nationalists, on the other hand, are people who identify politically with a piece of geography that is defined by their national borders.
Nationalists are not necessarily right-wing. As I explore in my recent book, Being in Time – A Post Political Manifesto, Trump’s nationalist populism shares some characteristics with left icons such as Bernie Sanders and the populism of British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn. These politicians resist divisive Identitarian ideologies. Steve Bannon, the bete noir of liberal America, explored this idea in a recent televised debate: “It is not a question whether populism is on the rise… the only question before us is whether it is going to be populist nationalism or populist socialism…”
Populism is back everywhere, which raises the question of whether Trump is, in fact, a populist. Does he actually care for the people or about the people? I do not see any clear evidence of that. Trump behaves as an oligarch, bonded with international oligarchy. Trump is popular, but popularity and populism are distinct concepts. The former refers to being loved by the people, the latter is someone who cares for the people. Liberals and progressives who castigate Trump as a fascist should understand that while fascism is defined as a national socialist endeavour, Trump is more a national capitalist. He is popular because he successfully delivers a populist message.
After the mid-term congressional elections morning there is a new political situation. Trump is not going to “save America”. Even if he once believed that he could do so, the window for such a manoeuvre has closed. It is unlikely that Trump will be able to make significant changes. The Democratic House of Representatives will likely reject his initiatives. Despite this, Trump’s presence in the White House has revealed the conflict that shatters the West. The old political battle between left and right has been replaced by post-political identitarian wars. World War III is not going to be fought between countries or across borders. It will be a war that splits states, societies and even families apart.
While Trump’s promise to “make America great” carried little substance, the red portion of the map of America shows a clear divide. As you move away from America’s coasts, a lot of people do not want what the liberals are offering. They want work, secure borders, education and health services. They want America to be great for real. They want justice and equality. They may or may not be bothered by uncertain or unconventional genders; they are far more concerned with being able to get a decent job.
Whether anyone within the Democratic or the Republican Party truly understands this longing is an open question. But I have no doubt that the thirst for a radical change is going to bring more populist politics to America and beyond.

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