Trump's Nationalism Advances on a Trajectory to Violence - 2020-05-02
Ever since Donald Trump declared his presidential candidacy and rank racism in 2015, those of us who'd witnessed the nationalist undoing in the Balkans at the end of the last millennium have found the subsequent rise of Trumpism frighteningly familiar. We quickly recognized a host of nationalist pathologies: the tactical importance of bigotry, since enemies must be ceaselessly identified and hated; relentless misogyny as a means of controlling women and their bodies, because the nation is a masculinist project where women serve as wombs for national reproduction; a profusion of lies, conspiracy theories, and plain nonsense, since reality is controlled by the enemies (fake news, deep state, the Jews, etc.) and must be perpetually undone and redone; the coalescing of a diverse political field around a leader and a stupidly conceptual goal (Greatness! Capitalism! Freedom!); loyalist cabals who are vetted, validated, and eliminated by the leader's whims; and rampant venality combined with a criminal reconfiguration of the economy.
But the most important and troubling symptom is the open and ceaseless commitment to conflict meant to culminate in transformative, cathartic violence; this marks the beginning of collective self-actualization. As we bear witness to armed white American militias storming or protesting outside government institutions, it is clear that the chaos and tragedy of Covid-19 are being used by Trump and the GOP to enhance the conflict and accelerate the birth of a new, greater America. At the heart of every nationalist mythology is some kind of a rebirth, usually bloody and requiring sacrifices, preferably of the weak and the doubtful.
Because those who experienced the bloody undoing of Yugoslavia have already seen the havoc nationalism wreaked in their own lives and countries, it is hard not to worry about its symptoms again — or, as a Bosnian saying goes: If you were bitten by a snake, you're scared of lizards. It would be wrong, of course, to ignore the differences between the histories, including the respective political conditions, in pre-dissolution Yugoslavia and in the United States in the last few years (or decades). Still, insisting there are no points of comparison means accepting the proposition at the root of every emanation of nationalism: that "our" nation is unlike any other, historically unique and incomparable. If one is not blinded by that kind of essentialist entitlement, the common practices of nationalism become recognizable across cultures and histories.