Nathan Gardels is the editor-in-chief of Noema Magazine.
No sooner did “the party of Davos” ― as top White House aide Stephen Bannon calls the global elite ― end its annual conclave in the Swiss Alps late last week than the “Nationalist International” was born down in the Rhine Valley city of Koblenz, Germany. All the main populist movements from across Europe gathered together there to celebrate the Brexit and Trump victories as a premonition of their own expected success in elections over the coming year. They called on their fellow Europeans to “wake up” like the Americans and British and take back control of their national destinies.
What animates these movements for national sovereignty, and paradoxically ties them together across borders, is a double antipathy. Their revolt is against both the faceless forces of global integration represented by trade agreements or Brussels “Eurocrats” and the face-to-face presence of immigrants whom they see as despoiling their own national identities.
Scott Malcomson insightfully points out that these movements in Europe see their cultural nationalism not as intolerance of others, but as a defense of diversity in the form of their unique, familiar and cherished way of life they now see as under assault. In their conflated anxieties over Muslim immigrants and terrorism, which they share with President Donald Trump and his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, populists are demonstrating what political scientist Samuel Huntington said after the 9/11 attack by Osama bin Laden about that terrorist leader: “Just as he seeks to rally Muslims by declaring war on the West, he has given back to the West its sense of common identity in defending itself.”
More so than in the U.S., the European nationalist’s idea of belonging bears some very worrying baggage. As novelist Elif Shafak says in an interview with The WorldPost, “I am far more concerned about the rise of populism across Europe than the rise of populism in the U.S. Here in the old continent, there is almost a visceral fear of diversity and ‘the other.’” She goes on to say that, “we need to bear in mind that this history is still alive in a fractured, fragmented and uneven continent where we do not always encounter the checks and balances that exist in the U.S. Constitution.” Mimicking the cry of the Koblenz meeting, Shafak concludes, “So, yes, it is a ‘wake up’ call. But not for the tribalists. It is a wake-up call for democrats and liberals and cosmopolitans, for anyone and everyone who holds democracy and pluralism dear. It is a wake-up call for us.”
As Nick Visser reports, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is pushing back against the nationalist upsurge. Speaking to church leaders in Germany on Monday, she declared, “We won’t get anywhere by trying to solve problems with polarization and populism. We’ve got to show that we’re committed to the basic principles of our nation.”
Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis says he thinks it is Germany’s insistence on Europe-wide austerity policies that are at the root of the problem. To defeat the nationalist resurgence he proposes a “New Deal” for Europe that is an alternative to those policies which he sees as a, “gift to today’s coalition of European right-wing parties called the ‘Nationalist International.’” He continues: “Europe can survive neither as a free-for-all nor as an Austerity Union in which some countries … are condemned to permanent depression.”
President Trump this week also took the first steps toward fulfilling his campaign promise of building a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border and proposed cuts in federal funding for “sanctuary cities” across the U.S.
On Thursday, Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto insisted once again that Mexico would not pay for a border wall ― which he said undermined the “respect” of his “sovereign nation”― and cancelled his upcoming trip to Washington. The two have since spoken by phone.
Former Mexican president and chair of the Berggruen Institute’s 21st Century Council, Ernesto Zedillo, goes further. He said to me this week that Trump’s proposals toward his country have “defied legal and economic rationality” from the start and that now, “the time has come to admit that the actions of the new administration have cancelled, at least for the foreseeable future, any agreement stemming from dialogue and negotiation that could satisfy the legitimate interests of both parties.” Labelling the American president’s actions “aggression,” Zedillo joins the rallying cry of his countrymen: “What we reject under any circumstances is any attempt to use a single inch of our territory to build such an abominable structure. It goes without saying that all Mexicans are behind President Peña Nieto when he tells President Trump that we will not pay for his extravagant, offensive and useless project.”
In addition to his directives on Mexico, the American president also delivered on his pledge to limit Muslims entering the U.S., signing a document late Friday whose full details still remain unclear at the time of this article’s publish. Charles Kurzman argues that the the proposed limits are “absurd” and counterproductive. It is the strategy of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, he writes “to take advantage of the West’s hypersensitivity to small scale Islamist attacks.” He continues: “Since 2001, there have been zero fatalities in the U.S. by extremists from the countries on Trump’s list.”
As Trump crosses off executive order after executive order and as Syria talks sideline America yet again, many wonder if the U.S. president will go easy on Russian President Vladimir Putin. The two leaders are slated to speak this weekend, but already, Ukrainians are on edge. From Kiev, just days after Trump’s inauguration, Ian Bateson reports that many there fear the special relationship between Putin and Trump could leave Ukraine in the cold. “We have seen the rhetoric. Now we are waiting for performance,” one politician says.
Back in America, millions of demonstrators took to the streets across the U.S. and elsewhere to protest Trump’s policies even before executive orders had been signed. Turkish journalist Ilgin Yorulmaz, who participated in the Washington march, sees a correspondence with resistance in her home country and other countries across the world. “Women (and men) share the same concerns about gender inequality and sexual harassment,” she writes, “regardless of if they live middle class lives in Manhattan or face discrimination on the subways of Istanbul.” Aykan Erdemir and Merve Tahiroglu score new moves by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to consolidate executive power. “An overly centralized polity, a weak legislature and Erdogan’s authoritarianism have brought Turkey to the brink,” they write.
Also reflecting on the massive demonstrations, Margaret Levi reviews the experience of how social movements in American history have ultimately shifted the political agenda. These photos document the scope of demonstration that took place last weekend around the world. Hayley Miller reports that despite the Trump administration’s renewed focus on fossil fuels, a new Pew poll says two-thirds of Americans favor a path to a renewable energy future.
Writing from Hong Kong, Li Jing reports that Chinese officials say they are prepared “to take a leadership role” in defending the Paris climate accord no matter what the new Trump administration decides to do. Following the splash of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s defense of globalization in Davos last week, Minxin Pei sees trouble for him at home as adversaries resist his anti-corruption crackdown and economic reform agenda. “2017 will be a dangerous year for Xi,” he says. In South Africa, in fact, attempts to model government off of China have already created tension among political parties, explain Eric Olander and Cobus van Staden, with one mayor taking a controversial trip to Taiwan, sparking a Trump-esque “one China” policy violation backlash.
Looking to the far future, Deep Space advocate Mary Lynne Dittmar imagines how a full-fledged effort to settle on Mars can help us in our troubled home planet. “Why Mars?” she asks, “Why not the Moon? Simply put, Mars is the best place to develop a ‘local’ infrastructure enabling us to live on another planet, albeit one millions of miles away. In a very real sense Mars is at the far end of the infrastructure we are preparing to revitalize in this country.”
Finally, our Singularity series looks at the moral dilemmas posed by new advances in genetic screening that further enable “designer babies” whose characteristics can be selected.
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