I often write about the benefits of decentralization, when it comes to computer platforms like Facebook and Google. Today I want to talk about a different kind, that’s happening right now “in the real world”.
Donald Trump ran on a campaign that “we don’t win anymore”, and on starting a trade war with China and Mexico. He spoke forcefully against illegal Mexican immigrants, and “putting a stop to” immigration of Muslims. Now, he is the nominee of the Republican Party for President of the United States. The not-so-secret reason this is happening is because a populist Nationalism has become a growing movement, fed by years of fear-mongering about “the others” – whether it is other countries unfairly trading, immigrants stealing our jobs, or refugees raping/attacking our people. In the USA, this was done by conservative news outlets.
In the UK, there has been a growing nationalism as well. The counterparts to Donald Trump over there would be UKIP and Boris Johnson, who may be next in line for Prime Minister of the UK after Cameron, who has just announced his impending resignation. While certainly more measured than Trump, Johnson’s bravado, hair and general appearance bear a certain resemblance to Trump’s. I think it’s more than mere coincidence.
There is nothing new under the sun, however. Liberals and human rights activists throughout the world had better be vigilant. History will judge how all this New Nationalism will turn out. For a history lesson of what unrestrained right-wing conservative nationalist rhetoric can lead to, read about the Stabbed-In-The-Back myth that planted the seeds for the rise of the Nazi party a decade later. Back then, the villains were communists, Jews, and “others” who did not belong to the nation.
England had just voted to secede from the European Union, becoming the first country to ever do so. In a close national vote, 52% of the country lodged an arrow in the heart of the dream of a “unified Europe”. Now there is talk of whether any other countries will follow suit. Almost immediately, the nationalist factions in France and Austria renewed calls for their own referendum. This is especially interesting news for Russia, whose news outlets joined the chorus of voices asking whether the end of the EU has come.
But the UK faces a more imminent danger of staying intact. Despite the name “United Kingdom”, the vote showed just how divided the British public is when it comes to membership in the EU. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar overwhelmingly voted to “stay” in the EU, as did London elites, yet were beat out by the “leave” throughout the rest of England and Wales.
Less than two years ago, Scotland held its own referendum on separating from the UK, which lost in a 45%-55% vote. The Scottish National Party, the largest political party in Scotland, has said in their manifesto that it would call for another referendum if the UK leaves the EU. Well, that has just occurred.
If Scotland, Ireland and Gibraltar leave the UK and rejoin the EU, England will become politically isolated even within on its own island. My personal feeling is that, when the next steps play out over the next few years, the primarily English decision to leave the EU may have turned out to the most short-sighted national democratic decision since the Palestinians voted Hamas into power in 2006. Still, it is the will of the People, and at the end of the day, we are talking about large, wealthy nations, so things are probably going to be okay either way.
Adjusting the map
The UK is not made of colonies, nor even countries in its orbit, as the US might consider many Caribbean countries. Rather, it is a United Kingdom of countries that currently enjoy great unity but share an uneasy history of political unification, wars for independence, and cultural imposition. It is closer to the USA in its unity. Yet, unlike the USA, it has peaceful, political provisions for secession. This allows the Kingdom to break up.
Not many people know that the USSR was a federation whose Constitution allowed for secession, and which led to its peaceful break-up and dissolution, following the secession of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. The EU and UK have provisions for peaceful secession.
On the other hand, when the Constitution of the USA replaced Articles of Confederation, it effectively outlawed secession, transferring ultimate national sovereignty to “We the People” of the entire USA. The largest attempt to secede led to a bloody Civil War to preserve the union. Neither does Ukraine have a provision for a province to secede unilaterally, which is why the referendum in Crimea was never recognized and why and it waged a war for unity in the East despite bootleg referendums of Donbass.
The fate of empires
Over the last several hundred years, England’s colonies around the world gained full political independence, some through violent revolution, others peacefully. Every empire has countries that hate it after it breaks up. The USSR vilified to this day by Hungarians, Lithuanians, Estonians, and many Ukrainian nationalists, who now want to eradicate traces of Russian cultural influence. Many Kurds, Greeks and Armenians have traumatic memories of the Ottoman empire, the latter two having been systematically attacked and tortured by Turks. But time and distance heals wounds, so the English-speaking countries are great friends today.
Many articles have dealt with the possible economic issues surrounding the Brexit. I wanted to cover the political issues. In short, we are living in a world that would have seemed surreal to liberal democrats trying to build a unified, globalized world. A counter-movement of right-wing nationalism is now leading to possible trade wars and breakups of the EU and UK. This decentralization may not be bad in an of itself, but it challenges the new globalized status quo that we have become so accustomed to in the last 30-50 years. A status quo which represents stability, cooperation, and most of all, the best way to prevent massive war through economic ties. It was, indeed, those economic ties that prevented a repeat of WW2.
We are now entering uncertain times, both economically and politically. We must not merely hope, we must be vigilant. The former US secretary of defense has just written a book warning of nuclear war. On the other hand, the secession of the UK and election of Donald Trump may actually work to normalize relations between Russia both for the US and the UK, putting to an end another dangerous trend: the expansion of NATO’s nuclear bases.
In short, because of the New Nationalism, everything you know about the current geopolitical status quo might soon change.