Trumpism: When Nationalism Meets Globalism

Thomas Friedman, a journalist for the New York Times newspaper, leaves a morning session during the Allen & Co. Media and Tec
Thomas Friedman, a journalist for the New York Times newspaper, leaves a morning session during the Allen & Co. Media and Technology Conference in Sun Valley, Idaho, U.S., on Wednesday, July 9, 2014. Technology companies from Silicon Valley are expected to take center stage at this year's Allen & Co.'s Sun Valley conference as tech and media converge. Photographer: Scott Eells/Bloomberg via Getty Images

In "The Lexus and the Olive Tree," published at the height of the globalization era in 2000, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman contrasted two visions competing for influence. One embraced the principles of free markets, free trade and free immigration (the Lexus), which would create a more prosperous world free of conflicts between ethnic groups, religions and nations.

The other promoted the anachronistic values of identity (the Olive Tree) driving a political backlash against globalization, calling for restrictions on the flow of capital, goods and people, and celebrating various forms of tribalism.

Following the collapse of the Berlin Wall and end of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Friedman was hopeful in 2000 that the conflict between Jews and Arabs would also come to an end. Once the Lexus defeated the Olive Tree, young Israelis and Palestinians would be forming startups and making money in Tel Aviv and Ramallah instead of fighting over their respective holy sites in Jerusalem.

Fast-forward 15 years, with young Israelis and Palestinians still fighting over holy Jewish and Muslim sites, and the migrant crisis overtaking Europe. Europeans are now said to be studying the separation barrier built by Israel in the West Bank, as well as the fence it erected along its border with Egypt.

Billionaire Donald Trump, who has emerged as the leading Republican presidential candidate thanks in part to his pledge to deport more than 11 million illegal immigrants, has also hailed the effectiveness of the Israeli wall in the West Bank and pledged to build a similar one along the border with Mexico. "It's gonna be a great wall," Trump says at campaign stops, insisting that he would force Mexico to foot the bill for what the media are already calling the Trump Wall.

In a way, "Friedmanism" or "globalism" -- the grand theory that the economic forces of globalization would overcome nationalism and ethnic and religious conflicts proved to be an illusion, just as other notions of economic determinism -- Marxism being the prime example -- failed to materialize.

The Economic Man did not defeat the Political Man.

Humans desire to preserve their individual identity, to have wings to fly and to gain economic freedom. But they also want to belong to a group, to maintain a sense of collective identity, to have roots in the past. When these two colliding needs are not in balance, a political backlash to achieve new equilibrium is inevitable.

From that perspective, the current immigration crises in Europe and in North America can be regarded as both outcomes and responses to attempts by Western elites to promote the globalism agenda.

Hence the ousting of Saddam Hussein and the "liberation" of Iraq were part of a fantasy to "export" democracy to Mesopotamia and to remake the Middle East along liberal lines. The so-called Arab Spring was then integrated into this globalism narrative and portrayed initially as a movement headed by young westernized Facebook users demonstrating in Tahrir Square.

But the result was the collapse of the status quo, and the unleashing of ethnic, sectarian and tribal conflicts that have ignited bloody civil wars, horrific violence, and Sunni and Shiite fundamentalism.

The migrants fleeing the region to Europe are the direct victims of this failed globalism project. In turn, they are stirring a political backlash on the continent in the form of nationalism and even racism that have given birth to political movements advancing anti-immigration policies and challenging the universal principles of the European Union.

In some respects, similar if less explosive trends have led to the rise of Trumpism, reflecting a political backlash on the part of many white Americans who sense that their identity and economic well-being are being threatened by legal and illegal Latino immigrants transforming the country's dominant Anglo culture and creating a semblance of a bilingual society.

The rising flow of illegal immigrants into the United States was partly a consequence of another globalization process: the integration of the American and Mexican economies through the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA, backed by the business community, essentially called for legalizing the status of the 11 million illegal immigrants.

It's not surprising therefore that Trumpists -- not unlike supporters of the National Front in France -- believe they are threatened by a pro-immigration lobby that includes businesses and upper-class types in search of cheap labor, and multiculturalists on the left.

The result is growing political pressure in Europe, North America, to build real and imaginary walls to protect national cultural identities and economic interests from the perceived threats of Mexican, Arab or African immigrants pounding on their doors. The world apparently ceased to be flat. It's walled.