Explaining Trump, Brexit and Other Expressions of Nationalism

With that context established, his focus is on the here and now and on explaining the current nationalist surge. Such an endeavor always carries a risk: that in seeking to explain a phenomenon, you stray into justifying it. Judis crosses that line more than once. Straining hard to see the world from the point of view of a voter for Trump or, say, the Hungarian strongman Viktor Orban, he too often channels that view unchallenged, accepting too many of its assumptions.

He draws, for example, on the typology set out by the British writer David Goodhart, who divides voters into two categories: Anywheres and Somewheres. The latter tend to live in once-homogeneous towns rather than diverse cities, valuing tradition and rootedness, while the former are footloose, prizing the novel over the long-established and constructing their identity from their individual professional or educational achievements rather than from the collective affiliations into which they were born. In this view, it is the Somewheres, often left behind economically and alienated by the rush to diversity, who have driven the nationalist revival, backing Trump, Brexit and a host of xenophobic politicians across Europe, while Anywheres remain stubbornly clueless about the pain and cultural dislocation their fellow citizens have endured.

But Judis, like Goodhart, too easily caricatures Anywheres as unmoored citizens of the world (both writers eschew the phrase “rootless cosmopolitans,” with its unhappy history, but that’s the idea). Anywheres are disconnected from and deaf to the natural feelings of national kinship that animate their less well-heeled, less educated countrymen and women. Judis constructs a straw man when he takes on “the cosmopolitan liberals who believe in a borderless world,” for how many liberal arguments, outside a John Lennon lyric, seriously demand a world without countries?

Similarly, in fleshing out the supposed outlook of these cosmopolitans, a category that he estimates makes up “perhaps, 15 to 20 percent of the electorate,” he cites a poll taken of the founders of internet start-ups in Silicon Valley, as if that tiny, rarefied group reflects the views of one-fifth of the American population. Sure, these tech millionaires and billionaires love immigration and value “global trade” over “American workers,” but they are outliers.

More troubling is Judis’s embrace of some of the presumptions that underlie the hawkish nationalism he aims to analyze. A small tell is his adoption of aquatic language when discussing immigration: Twice we read of a “flood” of refugees. Elsewhere a “trickle” of migrants becomes “a raging stream.” It’s only a small act of dehumanization, but it is such a common trope of anti-immigrant rhetoric that one would have expected Judis to be on guard against it.

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