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In France, A Grave Embarrassment For Patriots

Perhaps you recall the last time a French politician angered a certain kind of hairy-chested American nationalist. In February 2003, Dominique de Villepin, France’s conservative Minister of Foreign Affairs, cautioned the UN General Assembly about the sheer folly of invading Iraq.
“We all share the same priority—that of fighting terrorism mercilessly,” de Villepin said. “This fight requires total determination.” He added that “[n]ot one of us feels the least indulgence towards Saddam Hussein and the Iraqi regime.
De Villepin nevertheless warned that having conquered Iraq, the United States would then face “incalculable consequences for the stability of this scarred and fragile region.” He urged that UN Arms Inspectors searching for Saddam’s (non-existent) nuclear weapons be allowed to finish their job. Because he knew his audience, he also stressed his country’s eternal gratitude toward the United States:
“This message comes to you today from an old country, France,” he said, “…that has known wars, occupation and barbarity. A country that does not forget and knows everything it owes to the freedom-fighters who came from America and elsewhere.”
Even so, belligerent followers of George W. Bush erupted against “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” Furious nationalists dumped French wine into gutters. French fries became Freedom Fries. After I joked about “Freedom ticklers,” a reader sent me a photo of a vending machine in an Arkansas truck stop actually selling the fool things.
Today, hardly any serious observer doubts that the French were right. Bush’s Iraq adventure proved catastrophic: costing hundreds of thousands of lives, countless billions of dollars, inspiring ISIS terrorists, and spreading deadly ethnic and religious strife across the Middle East. Even President Trump now claims that he opposed the war, although like his apocryphal tale about Arabs celebrating 9/11 on New Jersey rooftops, it’s sheer make-believe.
If Trump had his doubts in 2003, he kept them to himself.
So now comes French president French President Emmanuel Macron, who delivered a forceful speech marking the 100th anniversary of the Armistice ending World War I by warning against a rising tide of nationalism worldwide which he deemed a “betrayal of patriotism” and also against “old demons coming back to wreak chaos and death.”
“Patriotism,” Macron insisted, “is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is treason.”
Treason against France’s governing ideals of liberté, égalité, and fraternité (liberty, equality and brotherhood), he implied (speaking in French). Putting race and ethnicity above citizenship is a cardinal sin in today’s Europe.
Because Trump was sitting there sulking like a child, American commentators assumed it was all about him. Because everything is all about Trump in his mind.
But Macron was also clearly referring to Vladimir Putin’s aggression, and to growing ethnic tensions elsewhere in Europe: Poland, Hungary, Italy, even in Great Britain. He was referring, in short, to the kinds of ideological and racial hatreds that led to the terrible cataclysm of “the war to end all wars” and the exponentially worse World War II that followed it. He was defending the international organizations devoted to avoiding a repeat: the United Nations, NATO, and the European Union. Imperfect all, but maintaining peace and prosperity across Europe, the U.S., and Canada for seventy years.
The distinction between patriotism and nationalism was perhaps most persuasively made by George Orwell. Writing in the shadow of World War II, he insisted that “[b]y ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally.”
Nationalism, on the other hand, Orwell defined as “the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad,’” but also “….of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”
“A nationalist,” Orwell continued, “is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige….his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception.”
Sound like anybody you know?
In Paris, the American Achilles went AWOL—skipping a solemn ceremony commemorating the dead of Belleau Wood for fear of getting his hair wet. Nicholas Soames, a conservative British MP and the grandson of Winston Churchill, tweeted:“They died with their face to the foe and that pathetic inadequate @realDonaldTrump couldn’t even defy the weather to pay his respects to The Fallen.”
As a patriot, I am embarrassed for my country.

Is Trump’s America Really Our America?

Who are we?

Are we the great America of courage, spunk, openness, inclusion, opportunity, and democratic promise — as expressed in the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Roosevelt’s Four Freedoms, and Emma Lazarus’ sonnet engraved on the Statue of Liberty?

Or are we the sad America of fear, cowardice, bigotry, xenophobia, intolerance, and autocracy — negative traits emanating from the darkness of Donald Trump’s miserable dystopian view of our society, which has now resulted in him unilaterally imposing a contemptible and chaotic ban on immigrants from seven Muslim nations.

The Donald and his thuggish regime of demagogic nativists from the far-right fringe are hoping we’re the timorous America. They shout that the people voted for the fair-haired strongman, and now they expect him to save them from bloodthirsty terrorists sneaking into America from Muslim nations. But wait — first of all, the majority of us did not vote for him. So spare us the lie that you have a “mandate” to discriminate.

Second, if your aim really was to save us from Islamic terrorists, you missed by miles. Exactly zero Americans have been killed in terrorists’ attacks here by any immigrants from these seven countries. So why them, and not Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan, and Afghanistan — Muslim nations with citizens who have attacked Americans? And, by the way, isn’t it curious that Trump’s ban doesn’t include Muslim countries where he has major corporate investments?

This disgraceful, self-aggrandizing political play is just one more Trump fraud. But the good news is that the American people are rallying in mass opposition to his autocratic arrogance, revealing that his America is not our America — and vice versa.

Not only is Trump going after innocent refugees with his unconstitutional Muslim ban, our bellicose Commander-in-Chief is at war in the homeland, deploying his troops to attack everything from our public schools to the EPA, dropping executive-order bombs on Muslim communities and the Mexican border, and spewing poisonous tweets of bigotry and right-wing bile at the media, scientists, inner-cities, “illegal voters,” Meryl Streep, diplomats, Democrats, people who use real facts and… well, Trump is at war with the American majority, with all who do not agree with him and with America’s historic democratic ideals.

And you thought Nixon had a long enemies list!

Yet, Trump’s most destructive and damnable assault so far has not targeted any one group of people, but an essential and existential concept: Truth. Bluntly put, this president is psychotic, believing that “truth” is whatever he says it is, and that he can change it tomorrow. Years ago, the author of a popular futuristic novel warned about the rise of a tyrannical regime that ruled by indoctrinating the masses to accept such a perverse notion of truth. It was George Orwell’s “1984,” which depicted a dystopia he named Oceana. There, the public had been imbued with a group-think belief that reality is not “something objective, external, existing in its own right.” Rather, “whatever the Party holds to be truth is truth.”

Now, here we are today in Trumplandia, with a delusional leader of a plutocratic party trying to redefine reality with “alternative facts,” fake news, and a blitzkrieg of Orwellian “Newspeak.”

But resistance to Trumpism is already surging — including the fact that Orwell’s 70-year old book became a bestseller in January — thanks to Trump resisters seeking… you know, TRUTH!

What Brexit Means To US? Another Trumpian Victory

Many people see striking similarities between Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. One of those people is Donald Trump.

The presumptive Republican presidential nominee just happened to arrive in Scotland to reopen a golf resort as the news of the “Brexit,” or “British exit” vote, came in. Unsurprisingly he took him no time at all to make the story all about himself.

“They took back control of their country,” said Trump when asked about the British vote. “It’s a great thing.”

“People are angry, all over the world, they’re angry,” he said. “They’re angry over borders, they’re angry over people coming into the country and taking over. Nobody even knows who they are. They’re angry about many, many things.”

And Trump has been doing all he can to make them angrier by peppering his observations with outlandish exaggeration. But his notions that immigrants are “taking over” and “nobody even knows who they are” captures a widespread discontent that will not be constrained by mere facts.

Troubled by economic shocks in the Euro zone, waves of refugees from the Middle East, the resurgence of far-right xenophobic nationalism and resentments over seemingly being bossed around by the EU headquarters in Brussels, a new neo-tribal nationalism has boiled up in European politics and to a lesser degree in the United States since the global economic meltdown of 2008.

Trump’s signature issues (a wall on the Mexican border, higher tariffs and the expulsion of millions of undocumented immigrants, etc.) were widely viewed as loony beyond-the-fringe extremism when conservative columnist Patrick Buchanan voiced them in his 1992 Republican presidential campaign. Today, much to the consternation of the Grand Old Party’s more pragmatic leaders, the old Buchananism has become mainstream Republicanism — trumpeted by Trump.

What, we Americans wonder, does Brexit mean for us? Or for Trump or his presumptive Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton?

In the short term, expect the British pound to be buffeted amid global uncertainty, which financial markets hate. Flight from the pound inflates the value of the dollar, but that can dampen our trade advantage. The EU is like a marriage: hard to endure sometimes but also painful to leave.

Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay, a sign of how much they expected Brexit to hurt their economies. Prime Minister David Cameron, a strong opponent of Brexit, resigned after his anti-Brexit fight failed. He is expected to be replaced by another popular conservative, Boris Johnson, former mayor of London.

The former newspaper columnist raised a fuss in April with a newspaper column that described President Barack Obama as “the part-Kenyan president” who may have “an ancestral dislike of the British Empire.” That didn’t help his Brexit movement allies who were denying that racism had anything to do with their rejection of the EU. I am sure that Johnson and Trump would have a lot to share about race relations.

Economics matter, but racism and other xenophobia typically play a role whenever politics mix with questions of national ethnic identity.

Marine Le Pen of France’s far-right, anti-immigration National Front applauded the Brexit vote as signaling a “new air” of patriotism. She also called it a “springtime for the people,” which brings to my mind uncomfortable memories of Mel Brooks’ dark comedy “The Producers” and its signature song, “Springtime for Hitler.”

But if Boris Johnson does become prime minister, he faces big headaches from his fellow members of parliament who are furious with him and the Brexit movement for the economic chaos the vote is certain to bring. He also faces the demands of an impatient electorate that expects to see some positive long-term results from that short-term chaos.

We Americans look on, as the old understatement goes, with great interest. History often shows a remarkable similarity in the political trends of the U.S. and UK. Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher sounded like soulmates as they led conservative swings in the 1980s. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair did the same in the other direction in the 1990s, promoting “third way” policies between the right and left.

Now we see Brexit rising simultaneously with Donald Trump’s presidential campaign. Both can be seen as reactions to a changing world. Both are supported mainly by voters who are older, whiter, less urban and more likely to have been buffeted by wage stagnation and economic dislocation.

Those are issues that we hope will be addressed by traditional sensible politicians, before it’s too late.

 

E-mail Clarence Page at cpage@tribune.com.

Photo: Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves as he arrives at his Turnberry golf course, in Turnberry, Scotland, Britain June 24, 2016. REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Alt-Right Emboldened

Published with permission from the Washington Spectator.

While it’s too soon to tell what effect Brexit will have on the U.S. election in November, it’ll undoubtedly act as a shot in the arm for a resurgent far-right. Trump’s campaign has already energized the once-struggling white nationalist movement. Brexit—living proof that virulently nativist politics can find their way into the mainstream and can deal a severe blow to the global order within the confines of the democratic process—can only embolden them.

America’s younger white nationalists have embraced the European far-right as a model for their own movement. The American alt-right—a term devised by National Policy Institute director and noted white nationalist, Richard Spencer—has strong European connections, largely through its embrace of “identitarianism.” The term, borrowed from the French Nouvelle Droit (“New Right”), places race at the center of any political calculus. Racial calculations here tend to be broader than those of some long-standing white power groups; “whiteness” can encompass groups, such as Eastern Europeans, once scorned by, say, the Nazis or the KKK.

The alt-right has rallied, with varying enthusiasm, around Trump, citing his focus on non-white immigration. (See “White Power Meets Business Casual,” WS, May 2, 2016.) That’s not to say that American white nationalists and their fellow travelers are uniformly pro-Brexit or, for that matter, care deeply about an “independent Britain.” Spencer, in a podcast several days prior to the referendum, said he’s a “euro-skeptic skeptic”—after all, “being pro-EU and being ethnonationalist is not a contradiction.”

The anti-Brexit blowback from the “elites” offers a convenient rallying cry, even across the pond.

In other words, Europe can be united against a racialized “other.” “Internal immigration within the European Union—the so-called Polish plumber—is arguably a real instance of cultural enrichment,” Spencer said in a video shortly after the vote. A unified Europe isn’t necessarily off the table. But as James Lawrence, writing at Alternative Right, argues, efforts toward “true and positive” European unity would have to wait until “after the anti-European political establishments oppressing us have suffered death by a thousand cuts.” In some respects, it’s not a far cry from Nigel Farage’s call for a Europe consisting of “sovereign states” that trade together, do business with one another—all while (somehow) insisting that freedom of movement must come to an end.

Still, Spencer emphasized, “The Brexit referendum is a kind of metaphor for nationalism and identity.” It’s, as Farage proclaimed in his ludicrous victory speech in the early hours of June 23, a victory for “the real people, for the ordinary people, for the decent people”—a victory, that is, for those who fit comfortably into the confines of British nationalism.

Others, such as The Occidental Observer—a publication edited by Kevin MacDonald, a former professor of psychology whose research focused largely on Judaism from an “evolutionary perspective”—noted that “the fault lines in British society are now in clear view and undeniable.”

The anti-Brexit blowback from the “elites” offers a convenient rallying cry, even across the pond. Those white nationalists determined to fight the scourge of so-called globalism (i.e., the ideology bolstering those leftist minions of “empire-building . . . corporations” who advocate for “multiculturalism and diversity, and that is killing the white race”) have already embraced Brexit as evidence their agenda can catch on. The fact that popular agitation—framed as a grassroots struggle against an “incursion” of non-white immigrants—could have such a profound effect on the global economy is offered as evidence that the shakedown is working.

“Nothing can shake the arrogant complacency of our globalist ruling class,” wrote Peter Brimlow on VDARE.com, an anti-immigration publication once designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. “But, as the Brexit vote shows, they can be broken. And the immigration issue is playing a key role in that breaking.”

Trump—whose half-assed attempts to distance himself from the racists of the far-right has had little effect on his race-baiting rhetoric—praised England’s vote along similar lines. “Come November, the American people will have the chance to re-declare their independence,” he said in a Facebook statement. “They will have the chance to reject today’s rule by the global elite, and to embrace real change that delivers a government of, by and for the people.”

There are those who have lambasted Brexit—and Trump, for that matter—as the result of a society that’s become “too democratic.” “I do believe that the Brexit vote raises and puts front and center the entire question of the role of referenda in democratic societies,” Council on Foreign Relations president Richard Haas said on a media call the day after the vote, echoing a sentiment that has proliferated rapidly among policy elites. But while Cameron’s idea that EU membership should be put up to a vote was nothing short of absurd, blaming the democratic process is disingenuous. British elites have been engaging in dog-whistle politics for years. And with the United States going down a similar road, it may be high time we learned from the mistakes of our friends across the pond.

 

Photo: A Brexit supporter holds a Union Flag at a Vote Leave rally in London, Britain June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall