Nationalism And Identity Politics – A Dangerous Concoction

Here are a few scary, but all-too-real case studies of nationalism in action.
04/13/2017 02:16 pm ET Updated Apr 13, 2017
There's nothing wrong with believing that your country is the best thing since sliced bread. However, if taken too far, the s
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There's nothing wrong with believing that your country is the best thing since sliced bread. However, if taken too far, the situation can quickly sour

Given the news of Steve Bannon’s diminishing role in the White House, it’s time to revisit the topic nationalism.

Nationalism is a complex political concept because it’s a term that can mean different things to different people. Regardless, at its core, the term refers to an unwavering loyalty and devotion to one’s country. Essentially, the nationalist mantra is “My country, above all others, at any cost.”

The Problem with Nationalism

On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with believing that your country is the best thing since sliced bread. However, if taken too far, the situation can quickly sour. For example, insisting that immigrants to assimilate to your culture before being able to fully participate within the system or antagonizing followers of an entire religion is an example of what can happen when a population takes nationalism too seriously.

One need not conjure up hypothetical scenarios to see this phenomenon at play. Indeed, you need only set your sights on the movement’s newest devotees to see that nationalism is not only still around, but it is rapidly spreading throughout the globe.

Here are a few scary, but all-too-real case studies of nationalism in action.

The New Face of Nationalism

The Finns Party - Another example of nationalism, and in this case radical nationalism, comes from Finland. The Finns Party, also known as True Finns, is a political outfit that was founded in 1995. At its core, it is nationalist-oriented and populist. This party favors liberal economic policies, conservative social values, ethnic nationalism and socio-cultural authoritarianism.

If one is to assess them based on their manifesto, this is a radical nationalist group. For example, on the immigration issue, they believe that all refugees ought to have a way to sustain themselves and must abandon their own way of life and pick up Finnish values.

Geert Wilders and the Freedom Party - Speaking of radical nationalism, meet Geert Wilders, leader of the Freedom Party (PVV) in the Netherlands. Because of the party’s belief in the superiority of Netherlands, it firmly believes that all immigrants must take up the Dutch culture. They have also gone as far as asking for the banning of the Quran and the closure of mosques in The Netherlands.

Marine Le Pen - Another leader whose thinking is in line with that of Geert Wilders is Front National leader in France, Marine Le Pen. Marine has always believed in the superiority of France, going as far as asking the French government not to grant Algeria independence in the 60’s and instead keep it as one of its colonies.

When National Pride Goes Too Far

Again, there’s nothing wrong with fostering a sense of national pride. However, the world is replete with instances of countries being unable to put the ‘genie of rabid hatred’ back into the bottle, once it’s been let out. That’s how it’s possible for an entire population to participate in unfathomable atrocities such as what took place in Nazi Germany or even in Rwanda when one group of people fully embraced the idea of being superior to their neighbors.

Hatred and violence are not the only consequences of problems that nationalist policies create. They can also wreak havoc on a nation’s economy. Let’s take Cuba as an example.

Cuba’s nationalism stems from the perceived notion that Cuba has been fighting external challenges and aggression for centuries. Its leaders have acted upon this belief by riling up nationalist feelings against the West. The purpose is two-fold, 1) to keep its people in the dark as to what they’re missing out on, relative to their counterparts residing in capitalist countries and 2) to force its citizens to accept their plight as individuals trapped within the station of their birth.

Zimbabwe is another example of nationalism gone wrong. Once affectionately nicknamed the breadbasket of Africa, today it is the continent’s basket case. Zimbabwe’s road from one of the African continent’s strongest economies to where it is today is a cautionary tale for would-be nationalists of any country. It began in the 1990’s when President Robert Mugabe began his campaign to evict white and other non-black farmers from their farms. Upon expelling the non-black farmers from their land, he transferred ownership to black farmers who often were laborers on the land before the evictions.

Nationalism in the United States

You may be wondering which nationalistic tendencies Trump possesses. His campaign rhetoric qualifies him as a nationalist through and through. In fact, he is more nationalist in his views than he is Republican. In fact, many conservative commentators described Trump as a candidate who ran a third-party campaign―within the Republican platform. That said, what is not known is how much of Trump’s nationalist stance is Bannon’s influence versus his own.

Indeed, his slogan “Make America Great Again” is a nationalist slogan. Likewise, during the campaign, he repeatedly stressed the importance of putting America and American lives first. To him putting America first means insisting that American companies manufacture their goods domestically. It also means imposing tariffs on countries that sell to the US.

This nationalistic outlook has also manifested itself in President Trump’s immigration policy. And make no mistake, were we ever to fully implement his nationalist agenda it could spell serious trouble ahead. If the reports are anything to go by Bannon’s days in the White House are numbered. So, perhaps, we shall find out soon enough if Trump’s nationalist bluster was just that—talk.

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