Sunday, 8 January 2017

A strange sort of nationalism

So back in the days of good old-fashioned xenophobia, nationalism was when you believed your country to be superior to any other country and hung your nation's flag over your balcony to prove it. Other countries were sly, untrustworthy, useless or dangerous. THEIR judges were corrupt and/or stupid, THEIR politicians on the take and/or useless and THEIR whole system of government and public service overpriced, weird, ineffective and convoluted.

Somewhere along the line though, that all changed, though it took 2016 (the year of Trump and Brexit) to make that fact clear.

You see, what the brexiteers had in common with Trump was their populist nationalism, to the extent that the two campaigns seem to have come to define nationalism for the 21st Century. And the thing is, it is actually a very weird sort of nationalism indeed when you come to think about it, because to 21st Century nationalists it's not THEIR judges, politicians and public services that are shit, it's OURS!

Take the brexiteers. British Nationalists they may be, but look at the range of things they are willing to turn against: British judges (aka Enemies of the People); the British civil service (foot-dragging Remoaners, every one); British ambassadors ("emotionally needy", according to Theresa Villiers, and expressing sour grapes, according to IDS); the British Parliament (not to be trusted with any sort of decision on Brexit) and of course the Act of Union with Scotland, hence the United Kingdom itself.

Pretty much the full house, you might think, but still trumped by Trump, who has repeatedly described the entire system of government in the US as a swamp in need of draining. But that's not the weirdest thing. The xenophobic arch-nationalist has then turned on his own country's intelligence services whilst praising the leader of a foreign power who has been exposed as engaging in cyber-warfare against the US. You really couldn't make it up.

So it seems that 21st Century nationalism goes hand in hand with full throated attacks on pretty much every institution of that same nation. So what exactly is it that nationalists these days support? Even the flag is problematic, surely. Even more in the US than in the UK, the national flag is an inseparable symbol of the national institutions that Trump's nationalists attack with such gusto. The stars and stripes flutters constantly over the swamp they chant about (over every State building in the land, in fact), and if Russia is suddenly more to be trusted than the US's own intelligence agencies, then which flag should they be rallying behind anyway?

You see it seems that 21st Century populist nationalism is a very direct and emotional concept that bypasses systems of government and national institutions, so that the 'nation' becomes whatever any individual nationalist deems it to be. It's generally a pretty vague concept, but can be easily conjured by well-chosen three-word slogans, apparently: "take back control", "build the wall", "lock her up", "brexit means brexit" and "drain the swamp." Not that specific maybe, but they clearly work, and certainly a hell of lot simpler than the average National Anthem.

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