Last year, one of the most conservative political parties in France, the National Front Party (NFP) used a combination of nationalism and racism to take over the mayor’s office in twelve cities and over two thousand council seats at municipal governments across the country. In addition, the NFP now has a quarter of France’s allotted seats in the EU Parliament. These gains have come as a shock and a surprise to people across Europe. Led by politician and party leader Marine Le Pen (daughter of NFP founder Jean-Marie Le Pen), the NFP has been leading the charge to close French borders to immigration – specifically by Muslims from former French colonial possessions in North Africa. It’s working well for them; by whipping up hysteria against brown-skinned “bougnoules,” the NFP’s popularity is continuing to grow.
Here at home, front-runner Donald Trump is using the issue of immigration to make his own political hay. Trump thinks he’s taking a page out of the NFP playbook – and he thinks it’s going to work for him. It may very well help his campaign – for a while, anyway. Trump’s mental elevator may not go all the way to the top floor, but he’s nothing if not cunning and calculating. His racist rhetoric has struck a chord among extreme elements in the GOP.
So far, Trump’s focus has been on immigrants from Mexico. But now, in the wake of this week’s tragic murder of four US Marines, allegedly carried out by a young Muslim man believed to have immigrated from Kuwait, he may be casting a wider net. We can expect Trump to expand that narrow, racist focus into a broad, xenophobic platform against immigration altogether.
This stand against outsiders, whether they come through our ports legally or sneak over the border, is a large component of “Nationalism.” At its worst, nationalism is a form of extremism that can lead to political persecutions and instigate wars. History certainly recalls a certain Austrian paper-hanger named Adolph Hitler who was swept into power in Germany in 1933 on a wave of ultra-nationalism.
Nonetheless, in the great tradition of the GOP in recent years, Trump will soon find out that he is overreaching. There are important differences between Germany of the 1930s and the US today. Germany was a very homogeneous nation. There was no significant immigrant population. Furthermore, Germany’s experience with democracy was extremely limited at that time. Culturally, the majority of Germans were not inclined to question authority. On the other hand, the US has drawn and taken in immigrants from all over the globe. We’ve also had well over two centuries of experience and opportunities to experiment with democracy. Historically, Americans have also maintained a healthy suspicion of authority and institutions (government and otherwise) that get too big for their britches.
The fact remains that France and the US are different societies facing different challenges. Furthermore, the US is a far more pluralistic and culturally diverse society. At worst, the majority of Americans accept and tolerate it; at best, we embrace it.
If Donald Trump had waited a bit longer to jump on the nationalist bandwagon, it might have taken him further. However, at this point, a campaign based on extremist nationalism is not sustainable – particularly with more moderate Republicans who make up the majority of the party’s base. Donny is playing to angry old white men – a constituency with one foot in the grave.