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Insight: Racism Disguised As Nationalism

By Margaret Bell in Washington

It is easy to find revolting the nativistic, white supremacist ideology that seems to be acceptable to American President Donald Trump. Especially since the violent, tragic clash this summer in Charlottesville, VA, between race-baiting ultra right marchers and their opponents from the liberal left, public opinion polling has revealed most Americans condemn Trump for his ambivalent response to expressions of racial hatred many felt were lodged securely in America’s past.

Despite Trump’s persistent unpopularity on such issues, and the dismissal of such key White House advisers as Paul Manafort, there is plenty of evidence in the U.S. and especially in Europe that on matters of race and immigration there persists a rising social and political sentiment which condones nativism and jingoism masquerading as a kind of populist nationalism.

Just last week in Alabama, a fiery bigot and former judge won the Republican nomination to compete for the U.S. Senate seat vacated by the present American Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.

Though Trump had campaigned for his opponent, Roy Moore prevailed, and his extreme social positions have given rare, flickering hope to the state’s Democratic party that it might capture a southern Senate seat in the upcoming general election.

Moore, 70, is best known for refusing, as Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, to remove from a state office building a monument honouring the Bible’s Ten Commandments. This was even after he had been ordered to do so by a higher U.S. federal court on the constitutional grounds of separation of church and state.

Moore was suspended for this judicial insubordination, but ran again and was elected Chief Justice again.

He was then suspended once again, this time for continuing to enforce a same-sex marriage ban even after the U.S. Supreme Court declared such a ban unconstitutional.

Moore is clearly no social liberal. In fact, he may be a spiritual heir to the infamous segregationist Alabama governor George Wallace, whose popularity in the state 40 years ago propelled him to national prominence. Wallace ran for president a couple of times, and seriously complicated American presidential politics before he was disabled by an assassin’s bullet.

Another election of exponentially greater potential significance took place in Germany in the past fortnight. While Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor since 2005, was re-elected to her post, her ruling Christian Democratic Union party lost 65 seats in the German parliament and she will need to cobble together a majority coalition with new partners by the end of this year.

Her pre-election partners were the SPD, the Social Democratic Party, once the proud home of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt in the 1970s. Now Merkel will need to find common ground with the liberal Free Democrats and perhaps others to find her majority.

Many of the losses suffered by Merkel’s party became gains by the right wing, anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany (AfG) party, whose numerical representation now allows it for the first time to organise and vote in the German parliament.

This all deals a severe blow to the European Union, whose champion Merkel has become as she tries to simultaneously reform and strengthen an institution which has both vexed and inspired Europe for decades and from which Great Britain has famously decided to leave.

Merkel’s partner in this effort has been French President Emmanuel Macron, but it is likely his ambitions for the EU have been at least delayed if not derailed by the German election results.

To ensure her parliamentary coalition, Merkel will have to back off to some degree on her support for the European Union.

Even as right-wing forces forced Merkel into unwelcome compromises and France’s National Front sorely tested Macron in his most recent electoral battles, similar movements are making waves elsewhere in Europe.

The similarly nativist Party for Freedom has made electoral inroads in the Netherlands, and Austria’s Freedom Party is expected to gain strength in elections there in a few weeks.

Ironically, all of these right-wing advances are rolling in as the centennial rapidly approaches of the 1917 Russian Revolution which ushered in 73 years of Communist rule in the world’s largest nation.

And in a further irony, the current Russian government rejoices in these destabilising right-wing gains.

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