Sunday, September 13, 2015

Trump, Obama and the enduring lure of "populist nationalism."

It's worth it for the Voltaire quote, which I haven't seen for many a moon.

Trump and Obama: A Night to Remember, by Adam Gopnik (The New Yorker)

Once, and only once, in 2011, have I attended the annual White House Correspondents’ Association dinner in Washington, D.C., on the grounds, as I explained then, that Voltaire is said to have cited when he declined a second invitation to an orgy: once a philosopher, twice a pervert. Luckily for the philosopher in me, it turned out to be an auspicious night. Not only, as we did not know then, was President Obama in the midst of the operation that would lead shortly to Osama bin Laden’s killing; it was also the night when, despite that preoccupation, the President took apart Donald Trump, plastic piece by orange part, and then refused to put him back together again.

There's a far deeper side to this. It's the enduring lure of what the author calls "populist nationalism."

Nor is it at all surprising to find a billionaire businessman representing this ideology, because it is not really members of the economic √©lite who are its villains—it is the educated √©lite, and the uneducated outsiders, who are. It is, on the historical record, much more a response to the ceaseless anxieties of modern life than to any financial angst of the moment. Probably the best student of this modern ideology is the conservative historian John Lukacs, whose 2005 book “Democracy And Populism: Fear and Hatred” makes clear how different the nationalist formula is from patriotism properly so called: it rests not on a sense of pride in place or background but in an intense sense of victimization. The cry of the genuine patriot is, Leave us alone to be the people we have always been. The populist nationalist cries, We have been cheated of our birthright, and the Leader will give it back.

The ideology is always available; it just changes its agents from time to time.

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