A New Form of Identity Politics: Economic Nationalism

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Analysius by Reporting San Diego

 

Oct 26, 2017 (San Diego) When we hear Steve Bannon speak of economic nationalism, the concept sounds strange, even alien. However, Bannon is reaching back to the long history of globalization, and resistance to the phenomena. He also is reaching to a long history of white racism. They are connected, in ways that most are not conscious. It also comes from a deep sense of persecution. It is clear as early as the 1960s. Leonard Sezkind wrote this in his book Blood and Politics: The History of the White Nationalist Movement:

One of its early goals was repeal of reciprocal trade agreements, and Liberty Lobby’s nominal chairman, Curtis Dall, testified before the Senate Finance Committee in 1962. An “international cabal” supported free trade, Dall argued, and the “real center and heart” of this cabal was “the political Zionist planners for absolute rule via one world government.”Substituting the word “Zionist” when talking about Jews became a hallmark of Liberty Lobby propaganda ever after, as “anti-Zionism” became a convenient cover for anti-Semitism.

If any of these themes sound familiar, is because they have become mainstream. Bannon is pulling at strands that once used to be very fringe and rejected by both mainstream political parties, and most Americans were not aware of them. I will argue, most are not aware how interconnected they are.

However, the history of globalization, in fits and starts, is older than the American white supremacists and nationalists who have taken the levers of power.

First we need a little history on globalization. Over the course of the last 500 years, economies have become rather cozy and close to each other. The first period of discovery in the 1500s brought the first spark towards a globalized economy. There were products that moved from one continent to another, partly because they were new, partly because they proved to be good cheap calories for European peasants. A good example of this is the humble potato. The humble potato is a South American staple, that made its way not just in North America, but also to Europe. Its modern history is tied to the cuisines of Eastern Europe, Ireland, and Italy. It is also part of the story of migration. The same can be said about the tomato, an Andean staple that is essential to Italian food. Pasta did not start in Italy either, but legend has it that Marco Polo brought it from his Asian travels. None is sure where, but China is a likely place of origin.

Without globalization, pepper would not be part of European cuisine. Nor would be potatoes, pasta, tomatoes, even chili peppers of all types. They entered our awareness during the age of sail.

Then there is silk, a luxury product of the age, not available in Europe. Or for that matter fine China, used in the kitchens of the nobility, and wealthy burghers. The land routes to the east, through the ancient Silk Road, were controlled by newly converted peoples to Islam. Many of them did not want to have much to do with backward Europeans, who wanted to bring the light of Christendom to the heathen east. In the 1500s Europeans were still in the depths of magical thinking and belief in witches, while India, China, and the Arab World were in the midst of a scientific revolution. This era was not that distant from the Crusades, the last caliphate in Europe fell in 1492. The roles would reverse within 300 years, but in 1500 Europeans were backward and China was on the cusp of a transpacific empire.

Strangely Emperor Zheng He Of the Ming dynasty ordered the sinking of the fleets and the closing in of China. The parallels to modern day the United States are uncanny. We are the ones on the cusp of retreating from the world and closing ourselves to the world. China remained closed off until the 19th century. At the beginning of the 21st Century, it is not just ready to expand its influence and become a world power. But under the orders of Chairman Xi Jinping, a new Silk Road is under construction.

This period of discovery was the first push towards globalization. It did sputter and halt, mostly due to technological limitations.

The second happened in the middle of the industrialization and factory eras. Steam power led to not just better means of production, but also communications. Coal became essential to this effort. The telegraph accelerated the transmission of knowledge as well. This led to the expansion of science and new technologies.

It was also an age of great migration. These were not driven by famine, except for one great exception. (The great Irish potato famine). They were driven by the hope of a better economic life elsewhere. This was the era when the American dream became the objective of millions who came to these shores speaking Italian, French, Polish, Yiddish, and Russian. Many were Catholic who came to a Protestant-dominated land. Some were Eastern European Jews, who traveled for the opportunity and escaping recurrent progroms. These immigrants were resented, on religious and ethnic grounds, the same way that modern-day xenophobia affects our politics.

We are in a period that has seen greatly accelerated globalization, Part of it is technological. We are no longer talking about the speed of sail, which marked the first period of globalization; or the speed of steam and morse code, which saw the second period. We are now in a world that is tightly connected using technologies that are almost indistinguishable from magic. However, there is a danger on the horizon, because this is leaving many behind. We have seen this in the growing rejection of free trade agreements, no matter what they look like. James Harold has explained this crisis this way:

In contemporary discussions, two alternative paths to the autodestruction tion of the globalized economy have been identified. The first sees an inherent flaw in the system itself. in contemporary terms, the most frequently quently identified issue is the volume and volatility of capital movements. In this version, there may be a system, but it is inherently unstable and likely to produce radically destabilizing booms and busts rather than smooth development. The second explains the crisis of globalization in terms of the social and political responses and reactions it provokes. In this account, fear disrupts globalization.

The reaction globalization provokes, is hardly unprecedented. We have seen it in the past and was part of the recurrent deep recessions and depressions of the 19th and 20th centuries that led to the end of the second wave of globalization and a resurgent nationalism, partly responsible for both world wars. There was resistance to the migration movements as older settled populations saw those as interlopers who came to take their jobs away.

The 2008 crisis led to the kind of economic shock that saw the widespread rejection of globalization. While unions, in general, were against things like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was the first of its modern-day kind, 2008 made this resistance more widespread. Hence, why the Transpacific Trade agreement died on the vine in Congress.

The very early days of open and conscious rejection outside the fringe came at the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) meeting in Seattle in 1999. There is an awareness that that global trade as currently done, leaves millions behind and exploits cheap labor. It is easy to exploit ill protected labor in Bangladesh, for example, under the current rules. Some of those who oppose modern-day trade practices, oppose them for how unfair they are, and would support fair trade. Fair trade would favor strong labor rights, as well as strong and enforceable environmental practices.

This rejection of a globalized culture and economy also has racist undertones. This is a form of identity politics if you will. It is clear in the writings of Alexander Dugin in Russia, or Richard Spencer and Steve Bannon in the United States. They revel in a view of the world where globalization is bad, and multiculturalism is a destroyer of the white race. It is not new but has gone mainstream.

This matters in this rejection of globalization and the rise of economic nationalism. Sezkind describes the connection to white supremacy this way:

The point here is that the dynamics of the 1960s caused white supremacists in the 1970s and 1980s to conclude that their ideological forebears had lost that battle over civil rights. As a consequence, they built a movement around the idea of white dispossession, the notion that the country that they believed had once been the sole property of white people was no longer only theirs.

This is translated into the idea that many whites believe they are discriminated against. This is no joke and we see it in polling, According to National Public Radio:

More than half of whites — 55 percent — surveyed say that, generally speaking, they believe there is discrimination against white people in America today. Hershman’s view is similar to what was heard on the campaign trail at Trump rally after Trump rally. Donald Trump catered to white grievance during the 2016 presidential campaign and has done so as president as well

This is no accident since conservative politics has emphasized this for decades. It also leads to the idea that Bannon has used when speaking to the press, openly. While Democrats openly use old fashioned identity politics, his people will use economic nationalism, This is a nationalism that returns power and all forms of privilege to whites. That this is identity politics is not escaping us, but it is a powerful drug used to conquer.

The poll also found a direct relationship with income. Lower and middle-income people were more likely to speak of this discrimination. They feel it personally and act on it. Which is one reason why Donald Trump did so well with this group of voters. What we are seeing is the politics of resentment, that are coming from globalization and a changing world.

However, we are not ready to say that Trump created the conditions that exist. He tapped into an undercurrent of American politics, however. This is one that wants to pull away from the world and smash the globalized system that exists at present. It is also not exclusive to the United States either. We saw it in the BREXIT vote and the rise of the right-wing populist in European politics.

Sezkind describes the split we currently see as starting in the 1990s with the final defeat of the Soviet Union. He writes:

This subliminal change in political atmospherics broke open a long-simmering dispute among American conservatives. Several stalwart Republicans who had supported foreign intervention during the Cold War suddenly jumped over to the anti–Persian Gulf War camp and isolationism. As a result, a new version of America first nationalism appeared. This was not the civic nationalism born of the Enlightenment, defined by state borders and the individual rights of an informed citizenry. Instead, it most resembled ethnic nationalism, marked by race and religion. These nationalist conservatives spun out to the edges of political respectability, where they converged with the mainstreaming wing of the white supremacist movement

It was very obvious to any who saw the rise, and latter fall, of Pat Buchanan. He was an American firster in the new mold, before Trump. He was for pulling back from the world. He also took on some of the aspects of white economic nationalism and a white sense of persecution. He wanted to preserve a past, and go back to a past where traditions were what they were, and people knew their place.

In short, he, and his successors want a state where one group has dominion over all others. The fact that Catholics will ultimately not be included in this ethnostate is not something that entered Buchanan’s thinking. We live at a very dangerous moment. White supremacists have gained control of the tools of the state. Their view of the economy does not include anybody but them. Moreover, the end of the second wave of globalization saw a dangerous rise of ethnic nationalism. It was not unlike what we are also seeing across Europe. We could be on the cusp of ethnic-based warfare. We saw that with two world wars.

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