US President Donald Trump speaks during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York, 24 Sept | Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg
File image of US President Donald Trump speaking during the UN General Assembly meeting in New York last year | Jeenah Moon | Bloomberg
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At his UN General Assembly speech, US President Donald Trump touched a raw nerve across world capitals when he said, “the future does not belong to globalists, the future belongs to patriots”.

On the surface, it appears to be a continuation of his defining political slogan of America First and MAGA (Make America Great Again), and of the post-liberal world. It is also a new kind of articulation of the ‘nativist nationalism’ that has taken root today as a pushback against hyper-globalism. The trade wars that the US has launched and the global reaction to the refugee influx are just two examples.

But what is really ironic is that Trump is speaking the same language of economic nativism today that the Left activists chanted outside the World Trade Organisation conference in Seattle in 1999. Thousands showed up to protest economic globalisation and free trade.


Also read: Modi, Trump, Putin all put emotions over reason. That’s why they keep winning


Writing the nation away

How did we come to this? There have been signs all along. But many commentators sipping the globalisation Kool-Aid refuse to admit it.

In 1986, Stanford historian Carl Degler accused his colleagues at the American Historical Association event ofnothing short of dereliction of duty” because they had “abandoned the study of the nation”, according to an article in Foreign Affairs.

Degler added: “If we historians fail to provide a nationally defined history, others less critical and less informed will take over the job for us.”

In all the clamour over a flat world and globalisation and transnationalism, the nation had been written away. Now, that pendulum is swinging back – be it in India, the US or the UK. Countries now want to reach in, not reach out.


Also read: North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, Middle East: Trump addresses all issues and more at UNGA


Allure of globalisation

But not too long ago, globalisation wasn’t the dirty word it has now come to be. It was cool to talk and write about globalisation. In the much-celebrated flat world, geographical divisions and the idea of the nation was dissolving and it was possible to operate economically and culturally across multiple time zones. It was made possible by the principle of universal liberalism. But that architecture was undone by a series of events – the 9/11 attacks, the financial crisis of 2008, the Brexit vote and the 2015 refugee crisis. Many began saying it was time to hunker down and protect the borders once again.

Brexit was “the biggest defeat for the broadly liberal, outward-looking, cognitive elites” and of the post-nationalist future everyone had imagined.

Something else was also happening around that time. As transnational liberals and libertarians pursued globalisation in the last five decades – the Left and the progressives began to agitate against larger issues of climate change, free trade and the World Trade Organisation. They spoke of re-localising the economy, but their sites of activism moved away from the worker and peasant rights in their nations to the global arena.

This made it easier for the Right to move into these vacated sites in their nations and rebrand working-class people’s economic despair as cultural anxieties. This paranoia over immigrants taking away the jobs is evident in India and the US today.

This is why politics shifted from being about socio-economic issues to being about socio-cultural ones where notions of security and identity were predominant, said David Goodhart author of The Road to Somewhere: The Populist Revolt and the Future of Politics. He divided people into nowhere people (those with international concerns – the ‘Khan Market gang’ barb) and somewhere people (those with fix identities and geographies – rooted in religious identities like Hindutva).


Also read: Not just Mexicans, more and more Indians are entering Donald Trump’s US illegally


Conjuring the nation again

To wean people away from the allure of globalisation, the nation had to be invoked again, and borders and one-ness of a people had to be emphasised politically. And for that, people needed to be reminded about the “a unifying myth of origin” and past glory, wrote American media theorist Douglas Rushkoff in 2018.

That mythology of a great common past is evident in the BJP’s constant glorification of the Vedic period and Trump’s pledge to take America back to an imagined and perfect past (the ‘Again’ in MAGA).

“The backwards-looking nation builds walls to protect its boundaries, defines its citizens with ever-more precision, and protects the profits of its chartered corporations even at the expense of the climate, economy, and the well-being of its people,” Rushkoff wrote in 2018, adding that we think of nations as something forged in the past and not aimed towards the future.

The Left and the Centre

Liberals, Left and the progressives around the world are reacting. The rise of Justice Democrats – with Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Bernie Sanders – is how one section has countered it. Sanders just said billionaires must not exist at all.

But leaders like Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel tried to reclaim the centrist position by making the middle more muscular and appealing.

Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair recently said that the antidote to the current wave of Right-wing populism is not the economic populism of the Left, but focusing on the cultural issues as well. “You don’t just dismiss them as anxieties,” Blair said recently on CNN to Fareed Zakaria.


Also read: Massive crowd at Howdy Modi event in US is a sign of thriving Indian nationalism overseas


Make citizens glocal again

Trump’s false binary of patriot versus globalist can be countered by invoking what Princeton University philosopher Kwame Anthony Appiah called “rooted cosmopolitanism” in his 2005 book called The Ethics Of Identity. He had said that it is possible to belong to a specific place, history and culture and yet be a global citizen. The two identities, according to him, could not be disentangled. He spoke about the obligation to the others – the conversations about global human rights and climate change. The boundary of your state need not be the boundary of your moral concerns, he said.

To participate in global moral conversations is imperative for people of the 21st century. But cosmopolitans are not people who have lost their roots. As feminist thinker Gertrude Stein said: “What good are roots if you can’t take them with you”.

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7 Comments Share Your Views

7 COMMENTS

  1. Nationalistic fervor champion Narendra Modi should think about this: where would he win the recent Howdy applause if the USA were to start a NRC campaign in that country? His supporters can say that Indian Americans are playing a constructive role in that country. Well, are the NRC victims in Assam begging by the roadside? They have been productive in their own ways. They could fend for themselves ; they were not dependent on Assam government’s dole. NOW they will become so.

    When Narendra Modi was saying his propaganda line in different languages, the loudest shout went out when he said, “everything is fine” in Gujarati. That means, the maximum number of those 50000 people were Gujaratis. That is the story everywhere. In all foreign countries the maximum number of Indians are Gujaratis. If a wave of patriotism inundates all lands as the one of Hindutva is desperately being tried by our two Gujarati leaders to inundate India, and if all Gujaratis are shunted out of everywhere as Idi Amin once shunted them out of Uganda, then what will be the price of land in Gujarat – – one crore rupees per square foot? Is that the kind of wealth we are aiming to create?

    These are weak, bored, and boring arguments. Even a schoolboy does not want the new boy to come and sit at his bench. But so what? Don’t boys ever grow up? Talk of nationalism and patriotism etc are okay upto a point, and mature leaderships should and do find a way for the natives and (some of the) outsiders to coexist. To throw all of them into the sea is the suggested way out of those who are out of their depths.

    • “where would he win the recent Howdy applause if the USA were to start a NRC campaign in that country? ” USA already has an ever going NRC like campaign to evict illegal immigrants. It’s run by a permanent organization called ICE. Maybe, India should have one. The Indians, whom you saw in the Howdy Modi event were either naturalized citizens or people of Indian origin or those who hold valid visas and entered the country legally. They were not illegals immigrants. Modi received such a big support because it was symbolic expression of their patriotism for their motherland and their desire to see India and its people thrive.

    • Your comment is LOGICALLY flawed for several reasons :
      1. Indians in the USA are there Legally – they came there legally and they became residents of the country Legally.
      2. The NRC process in India that is monitored by the SC is a process to remove ILLEGAL immigrants who have crossed the border without any authorization and come and occupied land in Assam illegally.
      3. Comparing Legal immigrants to illegal Immigrants is a serious flaw in your logic and a great crime. It is like comparing Sonia Gandhi who has become an Indian citizen legally with a Rohingya illegal immigrant – they are NOT the same.
      4. The fact is Indians are celebrated in America not just because they are immigrants – but because they are SUCCESSFUL immigrants who have embraced American culture, contribute positively to society by working hard and are not a burden on Americans.

      • Apparently 13 out of 19 lakhs in the final list are Hindus. Now we have started hearing about dissatisfaction expressed by I think the CM of Assam himself, saying that no Hindu will be deemed illegal and sent to any camps. So the distinction between legal and illegal, on the basis of documents presented by residents of Assam has already broken down. It has come down to giving some, read Hindus, THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT. That’s very good, but where is the “legality” in that?
        50 years ago people were not document-savvy, there was no way to store documents safely, there was no way to obtain authenticated copies easily. And remember, we are talking of not just cities but also farflung villages of Assam.
        We cannot compare awareness levels of people of Assam from that Era and the present day Indians who migrate to USA or other countries.
        If you want to compare apple-to-apple, find out how many of the Indians who migrated to the Caribbean islands 100 years ago as labourers have sufficient documents available with them today.
        Indians are not burdens on America. True. Even our NRC suspects are not burdens on Assam government. At least not so far.

  2. Globalisation has delivered, lifted countless families out of poverty, faster than ever before in human history. Unclear what the little Bolsonaros will do for their countrymen. The vacuity of President Trump’s agenda would have shown up if he did not have the privilege of controlling the largest, most dynamic, innovative economy in the world. Even so, he has single handed tipped the global economy into recession. We should keep our fingers crossed that he does not ignite conflict in the Middle East.

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