Beware of the Nationalist Backlash to Globalization

President Trump just returned from his first official visit to India a few days ago. While his visit certainly made for exciting moments, the subtext behind the visit is more alarming than it seems on paper. Let’s take a look at Trump’s relationship with India’s leader, Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

It is first essential to understand who Modi is and what he represents in India. Although in 2019 Modi won re-election in India, the largest democracy in the world, he isn’t new to Indian politics at all. He has been the Prime Minister of India since 2014, and before that, he served a 13 year period as the Chief Minister for Gujarat, a large state on the Western side of India.

During his time as Chief Minister of Gujarat, he was rightfully criticized for his complicity in the 2002 religious riots that killed 790 Muslims and 254 Hindus.

It is important to dive deeper into what caused these infamous riots: a train car carrying religious Hindu pilgrims caught fire. Without evidence, Modi claimed that the fire was caused by Muslims and called it an act of terror. Modi blamed a religious minority without evidence and created systematic hatred and intolerance for Muslims in India that has only escalated in the past 20 years.

Does that sound like a familiar political tactic?

It is no secret that Trump admires the ‘strong men’ leaders of today’s world: North Korea’s Kim Jung Un, China’s Xi Jing Ping, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi Arabia’s Mohammed Bin Salman, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, etc. And most of the time their admiration of Trump is mutual, but for one particular reason: all these leaders are nationalists.

And more specifically for Modi and Netanyahu, they are religious nationalists.

They would never proclaim themselves to be religious nationalists, but if you study their political history and policies, it is easy to see what wave of ideology they ride on and who their voting base is comprised of. The most straightforward correlation to point out is that both the Israeli and Indian governments have recently passed ‘citizenship laws,’ or as it’s called in Israel ‘the nation-state law.’

These laws were meant to do one main thing: make the religious majority in the given country the exclusive rights to self-determination in that country. It makes discrimination based on religion legal. And essentially, that is what Trump has been trying to do from the very beginning, starting with his Muslim ban. 

It is no shock that Trump only cares about his base, which is comprised of many Evangelical Christians, making him a member of the religious nationalists club.

Nationalism breeds more nationalism, and that is why Modi and Netanyahu love Trump. Just like the world came together after WWII to establish globalized institutions – like the United Nations, World Health Organization, and the World Bank – to prevent more wars and help improve the lives of all humans on Earth, these current ‘strong men’ leaders are taking advantage of the flaws of those global institutions and using that anger to fuel nationalism.

Nationalism is dangerous, violent, and deadly. However, it stems from a legitimate fear: that the flaws of globalization will leave people behind economically, socially and politically.

Globalization isn’t inherently a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ process, yet it produces both good and bad outcomes that affect people very differently. The confusing part about globalization is that as a process it is inherently contradictory and it exists on many different levels.

In my opinion, globalization is the push and pull between the forces of homogenization and heterogenization, the constant battle between the globalizing forces of unity and the local forces of uniqueness.

This ongoing dynamic clash is happening on many different battlegrounds; in local markets and global economies, in journalism and entertainment, in politics and war, in technology and communication, and at its core, a battle between individual and group identities and ideologies. It is important to note that globalization, the push and pull battle, has created the concept of the nation-state.

The nation-state is a nationalist reaction to the global forces of the battle. Before the nation-state there were empires and different ways of organizing politically, socially and economically. Still, ironically enough, after the invention of the nation-state, globalization has become a lot more systematic.

The nation-state has enabled the neoliberal policies of modern globalization to be written into stone, at times defying borders, democracies and the sovereignty of other nations.

Neoliberal policies like deregulation, mass production, privatization, free-market economics, low taxes, and the dissolving of organized labor unions are what defined the Reagan-Thatcher alliance of the 1980s. It is what led to what Bernie Sanders would call “the one percent.”

The accumulation of power and wealth in the hands of the transnational capitalist class is a relatively new phenomenon. 

This shift in elites triggered a global mindset wave, where the international forces of the push and pull battle reign supreme and are etched into law.

The political and economic institutions of the modern era have enabled and enforced globalization policies across the world. Instead of thinking about local people and their needs and wants, both the local and global conversation turned to global integration on a political, cultural and economic level.

But as we see globalization continuing today, it is becoming evident that the nationalist backlash we are experiencing with Trump, Brexit, Hindu Nationalism, and Religious Zionism is part of the forever back and forth battle between the global and local forces.

Whether globalization is defined or not, there is no doubt that things are occurring and changing faster than before.

Consequently, it is essential to understand its complexities and see the many different ways it impacts the individual, the group, and the greater communities all over the world.

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