You know that feeling when somebody makes a good point, but the deeper you look, the more you see that it’s also completely hypocritical? That was the experience of reading Bill Clinton’s keynote remarks at the Brookings Institution yesterday. Here’s what he had to say about the pan-nationalist sweeping the globe, represented by Brexit, the eroding of the EU, and, of course, the election here at home of Donald Trump:
“People who claim to want the nation-state are actually trying to have a pan-national movement to institutionalize separatism and division within borders all over the world. It’s like we’re all having an identity crisis at once — and it is an inevitable consequence of the economic and social changes that have occurred at an increasingly rapid pace.”
“The whole history of humankind is basically the definition of who is us and who is them, and the question of whether we should all live under the same set of rules…[people] have found more political success and met the deep psychic needs people have had to feel that their identity requires them to be juxtaposed against someone else.”
“This is a very old story. It’s as old as the Holy Land, and much older. Ever since the first people stood up on the East African savanna, ever since the first families and clans,” Clinton said, “ever since people encountered the other. It is a very old story. And it always comes down to two things — are we going to live in an us-and-them world, or a world that we live in together?”
Okay, so, fine—all fair points. We live in dangerous times, and there’s something truly horrible about the isolationist and nationalist currents sweeping the globe.
THAT BEING SAID, this is Bill Clinton! This is the triangulator-in-chief who spearheaded the Democratic abandonment of the American working class, signed NAFTA into law, promoted globalism at reckless speeds, and even helped solidify our country’s underclass with punitive “welfare reform” policies, not mention rhetoric about “super predators.” His system of catering to the rich and marketing himself and his party as Republican-lite was effective at winning elections, for a while, but it also served as an instructive lesson to the poor, the workers, minorities, and everyone else left behind in this new version of the American dream: Nobody in power cares about you.
Is it any wonder, then, that in the absence of the kind of Democratic-socialism that marked the New Deal, people would stop trusting government of either party? That in some cases—when they had never felt empowered—they’d totally check out of the political system, and in other cases—when they sensed a loss of power—they’d embrace a demagogue like Trump?
Pan-nationalism is not all Clinton’s fault, but it is partly his fault, and it’s awfully rich for him to take the stage at a think tank and decry a situation that he helped cause. You reap what you sow, and the neoliberal agenda he espoused, along with his wife, helped create the fertile soil for the ugly tribalism we see today.
Maybe—just a thought—the Clintons should be quiet for once.