I am sorry to say that once in a while one or two persons among us will opine that I have no business writing political polemics from an American viewpoint because I don’t live in the United States. I hasten to add that such bigoted opinions are rare among us and I’m glad for it. Were I a writer for a conservative news outlet, on the other hand, I have little doubt that I would hear such unenlightened claptrap a lot more. But it bothers me nonetheless that such a provincial opinion would exist among our very own fellow liberals. It goes to show you that not all of us “get it.”
What is there to get? The idea that we as a species are merging into a single people and borders matter less and less. I know such an idea may seem preposterous right now given all the apparent strife in the world, but stay with me on this one for a minute and see if I can’t convince you.
I’ve mentioned before, and I think it’s worth mentioning again, that nationalism is on the decline. Enlightened people see nationalism as a step away from progress and progress means movement toward one world unity. It stands to reason that the more progress we make the louder, the more hectoring and, especially, the more desperate nationalism becomes.
Nationalism is, of course, nothing more than fascism in its Sunday Best, and Trump exploited the desperate dying light of nationalism to get elected president of the United States. It worked — barely — and it worked only once.
Of course there’s still enough nationalism out there to elect another Trump, and that would mean the probable end of the United States of America as we know it, and any hope of America’s participation in the world movement toward unity. It might even slow such progress down by a century or more, and might even kill it. And therein lies the grave danger.
But nationalism is the enemy of everything that can save us, and we can only be saved by uniting. Brexit was a nationalistic cause and notice that Trump favoured it and President Obama opposed it. Trump tried to cancel NATO, the World Health Organisation, NAFTA, freedom of the press and Muslims from entering the United States. (Talk about cancel culture!) Had he succeeded in cancelling those things the world would be more divided than it already is, of course.
But the overall trend Is toward unity, and we see it in subtle ways every day. We know that if we hope to win the struggle against global warming we can only do so if we act as a single people. The pandemic is a concern of the world, not individual countries, and we will triumph over it only when we work together as one planet.
The internet is the ultimate borderless one world nation, and English is becoming its universal language. Even the space station that orbits the earth is an international one. We are hurtling toward unity and many of us don’t even suspect it. Many of us wouldn’t like it if they did suspect it. But it’s the only thing that can save us.
In all of human history no two democracies have gone to war against each other. Wars have always had at least one fascistic or nationalistic participant. So the end of nationalism is also the end of war, and without war it could mean the end of poverty. Once we have eliminated every tyranny on earth by attrition or by direct engagement, “the world will live as one,” as John Lennon so eloquently put it.
The Republican Party doesn’t merely use division as a means to power but as an end in itself. Division feeds and maintains The Enemy, the necessary lubricant that keeps the engine of fascism running efficiently.
Orwell understood this and that was why in his dystopian vision “we were always at war with Eastasia.” Or Eurasia. It didn’t really matter who the enemy was.
Notice that before Trump Russia was the enemy, under Trump Russia was our ally and NATO was our enemy. They were as easily interchangeable as an enemy and a friend as Eurasia and Eastasia were in “1984.” For Trump and nationalism “America first” was a slogan so important that he needed to repeat it twice in his only inaugural address. It emphatically also meant “everybody else last.”
But we don’t think that way. We know that nationalism is the slippery slope to tyranny, and we have seen it played out on the world stage for thousands of years. We know that the best way forward is as one people, as a single world united for the benefit of all humankind. Because in the end, to paraphrase John F. Kennedy, we all breathe the same air, we all cherish the same things and we are all mortal. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.