The pendulum of public mood has swung far toward nationalism around the world, away from the globalism of the 90s. The decision of British voters to remove their nation from the European Union and of their American counterparts to elect Donald Trump signaled a rejection of the free movement of peoples and the ties that link countries together. In the weeks to come, Marine Le Pen could be elected as the president of France, and Trump is presently bumbling around with thoughts of withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
There are a couple of things to note here before I go on to my larger point. For one, the outcomes of the Brexit and 2016 American presidential election put a reductive cover over what is in fact a more complex situation. The vote in the United Kingdom was 51.9% in favor of leaving to 48.1% opposed, with Scotland and Northern Ireland supporting staying with the rest of Europe by sixty-two and 55.8 percent, while England and Wales leaned by smaller margins toward the exit. And the vote totals between Trump and Clinton were agonizingly close in the swing states. In that regard, the pendulum moves by only inches in its arc.
And while I’m working to avoid reductionism, I must also observe that the concerns of many over globalization are reasonable. I don’t want to live in a world in which McDonald’s, Walmart, Ford, and Paramount wash over the diversity of the planet, with Disney providing our park lands. While nationalist movements are often dismissed as racists, as fearing immigrants in specific and The Other generally, there is an underlying motivation here to preserve regional distinctiveness. If everywhere becomes the same, the diversity that that we celebrate will disappear — will be eliminated quietly and without the hateful rhetoric of the worst of the nationalists having pushed its end. Of course, the irrational fear hiding behind the face of “my country first” movements is the suspicion that my country’s culture and values may not be worthy to compete on the global stage. That has to be brought out into the open to be exposed for how bad it is, so we can maintain a simultaneous respect and support for individuality.
Also, given the way that international agreements have favored the elites of the participating nations, I share the objection that workers and the environment aren’t treated with the respect that they deserve. In a world of free trade, businesses are inclined to go where costs are the lowest. But the standard answer of protectionism ends up reducing opportunities within the walled-up borders, and closing off one’s country from the rest of the world only increases the likelihood that the country will find itself shocked by how far it’s fallen behind.
The desire for local control and more broadly for national sovereignty are expressions of these concerns. And when we must interact with the powers that be, we’d like to have those powers close enough to us to make them responsive to our own interests. But anyone who’s had to fight city hall knows that a local autocrat can be just as problematic as a global one.
It’s too simplistic to identify as a nationalist or a globalist without going into more detail. What matters is government on any level addressing the needs and wishes of the people, while protecting the environment and human rights. Politicians who promise those things will win, and the ones who deliver will remain in power.
Global rules in these areas make sense. We’re all human. What makes life worse or better will have that effect in Florida, Finland, or Fiji. If globalism is to work, everyone must be included in the benefits. Leaving some regions of poorly educated or unhealthy residents, for example, will hold the rest of us down. Ultimately, I want us to be a multi-planet species, but for now, one is all we have. And to survive, we’ll have to get past simple-minded thinking seen in the popular presentations of nationalism and globalism.
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