"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Trump, Brexit, And Radical Populism - Class Struggle Is Back

Over 16 million Britons voted to leave the EU, and more than 13 million Americans voted for Donald Trump in the Republican primaries.  Despite this vote of confidence for sovereignty, a more populist democracy, and nationalism Establishment elites on both sides of the Atlantic in churlish, snide, and dismissive remarks have branded a large percentage of their countries as rubes, ignoramuses, and weak-willed, manipulated political sheep.

In the United States race, gender, and ethnicity have been the most common distinguishing markers of social division in both countries, but class has rarely been cited.  Socio-economic status has also been a commonly-applied indicator of political preference.  By and large those who are less well-educated, hold low-level jobs, live in rural areas, and who see few benefits from the economic system tend to vote Republican.   Those who live in metropolitan areas, have college degrees and professional or managerial positions vote Democratic.

Although the terms ‘'upper- middle- and lower class" are useful indicators to suggest levels of opportunity, need, mobility, and wealth, few commentators talk about class in the British sense.  Upper class in Britain is defined as an aristocratic, selectively bred and schooled population of inherited wealth, distinguished pedigree, and disproportionate power and influence.

Working class defined those who labored in industry, mining, public transport, agriculture, and low-end civil service employment.  Those in the middle – with neither breeding, family, or inherited wealth nor legatees of feudalism – are an amorphous lot, important to Britain, essential to its economy and productivity, but neither fish nor fowl.  Up until recently reference to traditional class categories was common, accepted, and understood as a part of Britain’s social history.  Now, a much more polyglot culture, such easy classification is rare.

In the United States class has been a dirty word since Eugene Victor Debs, Samuel Gompers, the Socialist and Workers’ Parties, and McCarthy.  There was no such thing in America most citizens claimed, and the attempts of Socialists and Communists to deny our independent, individualist, and ambitious roots and to classify us only within the context of the means of production, labor and capital, and the dictates of economic determinism was beaten down roundly.

Now however, class in its most classic sense has returned.  Not that a workers’ revolt is at hand, nor a return to Marie Antoinette, the Romanovs, and Henry VIII; but a a new populist class arrayed against one of intellectuals, academics, and highly-educated professionals.

During the primaries in the United States, seldom had such classist criticism been directed at Trump voters.  According to the Eastern Establishment, such voters ipso facto were retrograde, racist, xenophobes.  Although liberal commentators focused their attacks on Trump, there was no doubt that it was meant for his electorate.

Many on the progressive Left have condemned Trump as a demagogue with Hitlerian powers of manipulation and wizardry; but in so doing they were heaping even more scorn and opprobrium on his supporters.  He was the Devil, they were the Devil’s advocates, and together they spelled doom for America.


Although the United States is a country divided in many ways – rural-urban, white-black, gay-straight, male-female – perhaps the most significant division is between those who value logic, rationality, and considered opinions and those who believe that life begins and ends with faith. 

For people of faith, the Bible is the received Word of God, and everything is derived from it.  Opinions and beliefs about Creation; the nature of man, woman,  family, and sexuality; principles of law, civil behavior, punishment, and forgiveness all come from the Bible.  Once one has made this ‘leap of faith’, abandoning logic for belief and received Biblical wisdom, then one cannot be expected to use logic in the same analytical way of the intellectual class.

Is this a reason to dismiss their deeply-felt and –held convictions?  Listening to Establishment commentators, the answer is an unequivocal ‘Yes’.  Such ignorance is a threat to Enlightenment, social progress, and progressive ideals.  Anyone who holds conservative views on marriage, sexuality, abortion, prayer, Creation, guns, government, and civil rights is a threat to American democracy.

This dismissiveness, of course, is the far more ignorant position.  Every one of the so-called ‘belief’ convictions of fundamentalist conservatives has a legitimate basis.  On any one of the issues suggested above, there are at least two sides.  There is no such thing as settled science or settled social policy when it comes to any of them.  More importantly, in a democracy such as ours, respect for differing opinions is – or should be – the bedrock of society.

The Trump candidacy has finally given lie to the progressive vision of ‘inclusivity’ and pluralism.  People of color, alternate sexuality, varying ethnicities and religions all have a place in the big tent; but conservative, fundamentalist, traditional white Americans do not.

Most liberal intellectuals will claim that they are indeed tolerant.  I may not agree with what you say, they claim, but I defend your right to say it.  This is not enough.  Real tolerance is saying, “You may be right”.

Tens of millions of Americans did not vote for Trump because of his economic or foreign policy.  They voted because he stood for something intangible but fundamentally important – personal and national sovereignty.  Many in the populist class have felt increasingly marginalized by the arrogated centers of power in Washington and Wall Street.  They have become increasingly angry as the juggernaut of progressive programs have disrupted that natural order of things.  They have felt powerless as decisions which should be left to the electorate have remained in the offices of the President, Congress, and the Supreme Court.  Trump does not have to be accurate, factual, and careful.  He represents an indefinable resentment and anger that goes beyond intellectual parsing.

The same is true in Great Britain. Most economists, senior politicians, and academics have come down on the side of Remain.  To leave, they contended, would amount to a social and political Armageddon.  As importantly, Britons would be worse off economically, at least in the short run.
Millions of Britons were having none of it.  They were so frustrated and resentful of European bureaucrats and British politicians that they – like their American counterparts – said that they were willing to take the risk.

The Establishment in Britain and in the EU didn’t get it.  They were so far from getting it that they were shocked.  They were blindered by their own classist arrogance.

Class is back.  Not in the old-style traditional style of chateaux, manors, and top hats, but the arrogation of intellectual authority.  The new intellectual class is as arrogantly dismissive of the populist class as their aristocratic forebears were when it came to working men and women.

This is only the beginning. Populism is finally out of the bag and is the force to be reckoned with.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Hollywood Endings–Why We Need Them Despite Tennessee Williams

Tennessee Williams was obsessed by dishonesty, betrayal, and deliberate cruelty.  As Blanche Dubois says in Streetcar:
Some things are not forgivable. Deliberate cruelty is not forgivable. It is the most unforgiveable thing in my opinion, and the one thing in which I have never, ever been guilty.
In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth he is particularly eloquent about this obsession and both plays are so brutally honest that they were significantly altered when produced for Broadway and Hollywood.  Although both Cat and Sweet Bird were finely nuanced and left room for redemption, they looked so unflinchingly at ambition, self-interest, and moral indifference that they could never have been written with an entirely happy ending.

Image result for images elizabeth taylor cat on a hot tin roof

Both Elia Kazan’s rewrite for the Broadway production of Cat and Richard Brooks’ and James Poe’s Hollywood screenplay are far more hopeful and romantic than Williams’ vision ever was.   Brook’s screenplay of Sweet Bird of Youth similarly distorted the playwright’s intent. 

Hollywood, of course, is in the business of happy endings.  In The Player, Robert Altman’s satire on Hollywood, Griffin Mill and June Gudmunsdottir have this exchange.  Mill, a producer is explaining why he turned down June’s lover’s script:
Griffin Mill: It lacked certain elements that we need to market a film successfully.
June: What elements?
Griffin Mill: Suspense, laughter, violence. Hope, heart, nudity, sex. Happy endings. Mainly happy endings.
June: What about reality?
Yet what is it about these two plays which required such alteration?  Macbeth, Hamlet, and Othello are produced for both stage and screen with few major edits. While Hamlet is always edited for time (if unedited it would be a four-hour play), it is rarely altered to change the intent of Shakespeare.  Othello murdered out of jealousy, ignorance, and misogyny and was unrepentant about his murder of Desdemona, explaining to his judges that he did the world a favor by eliminating another duplicitous, deceiving woman.  Macbeth was cruel and morally indifferent and one of the playwright’s least sympathetic characters.  Hamlet was a tangle of sexual frustrations, moral confusion, and a lack of will.  Edmund, Goneril, Regan, Albany, and Cornwall have no redeeming features and display the worst of human nature.

Image result for images olivier hamlet

Shakespeare’s vision is far more disturbing than anything Williams ever devised; and yet he is the playwright that producers tamper with.

In Cat on a Hot Tin Roof Brick is obsessed by ‘mendacity’, and although he criticizes others for their refusal to face the truth, he knows that he is the most dishonest of all.  While others lie to fool others, Brick lies to fool himself; and because he cannot face his own truth, he drinks to forget it.
Gooper and his wife keep the truth about his cancer to give them more time to ingratiate themselves to be the principal beneficiaries of his will; and Big Daddy’s wife is complicit in this mendacious and self-serving silence.

Big Daddy has lied to his wife for years;  but neither leaves her nor confronts her with his distaste for her ignorant loyalty and lack of spirit and will.

Maggie believes she is honest, but she lies, deceives, and manipulates more than anyone else.   She justifies her duplicity by saying:
Always I had to suck up to people I couldn’t stand because they had money and I was as poor as Job’s turkey. You don’t know what that’s like….how it feels to be as poor as Job’s turkey and have to suck up to relatives you hated because they had money and all you had was a bunch of hand-me-down clothes and a few old moldy three percent government bonds…
Later she makes very clear what she wants out of Brick – to make him not into the Adonis she loved at Ole Miss but into the respectable burgher who can responsibly inherit Big Daddy’s wealth and manage his vast holdings:
You’re a perfect candidate for Rainbow Hill (drug rehab clinic for the rich), Baby, and that’s where they aim to ship you – over my dead body! Then Brother Man (Brick’s brother) could get a-hold of the purse strings and dole out remittances to us, maybe get the power of attorney and sign checks for us and cut off our credit wherever, whenever he wanted…Well, you’ve been doin’ just about everything in our power to bring it about, to aid and abet them in this scheme of theirs…
Maggie does everything she can to discredit Gooper and Mae.  She ingratiates herself with Big Daddy, knowing that he is sexually attracted to her. She is solicitous to Big Momma and plays the role of dutiful daughter-in-law.

In a world of mendacity Maggie believes she is  the only one capable of dealing with the complexity of truth. In one way she is right, for she can indeed see through appearance and recognize the truth about others and herself.  She is the first to acknowledge Big Daddy's cancer and the illusions the family creates. "Nobody says, 'You're dying.' You have to fool them. They have to fool themselves." 

She feel that by confessing her motivations, she will bring Brick out of his self-absorbed funk and join her in her ambitions:
I'm not good. I don't know why people have to pretend to be good, nobody's good. The rich or the well-to-do can afford to respect moral patterns, conventional moral patterns, but I could never afford to, yeah, but--I'm honest! Give me credit for just that, will you please?
She indeed is not good.  She deliberately destroys Brick’s close friend, Skipper, by exposing his homosexuality, humiliating his ineptness with her and all women, and encouraging his suicide.  She lies about her pregnancy and is as manipulative and scheming of any character in the play.
In the final lines of the play, Maggie tells Brick that she really loves him, and he responds, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that was true?”

In Kazan’s Broadway edition, the play ends instead with this soliloquy by Maggie:
Oh you weak, beautiful people who give up with such grace.  What you need is someone to take hold of you – gently, with love, and hand your life back to you, like something gold you let go of – and I can! I’m determined to do it – and nothing’s more determined than a cat on a hot tin roof – is there? Is there, baby?
In the original version Williams’ offers a conditional hope that Brick might have been wrong in his dismissal of Maggie as another mendacious member of the family; and that Maggie might indeed be more than the selfish, manipulative woman she clearly seemed to be.  Yet it is clear that the hope is far less than conditional.  It is manufactured and a familiar expression of Maggie’s will and Brick’s weakness.

The Broadway version dismisses the idea of hope and personal redemption and replaces it with a can-do optimism.  Maggie is a benign Hedda Gabler, a woman of will and purpose; but far from the malicious and amoral designs of Ibsen’s character, one who can act in both her interest and that of someone else.

Sweet Bird of Youth is a play about ambition and deceit.  Chance Wayne is a gigolo with Hollywood ambitions, and when he meets and preys on Alexandra del Lago, an aging  Hollywood star who feels weak, vulnerable, and hopeless after what she believes is a disastrous screen performance – one which shows her as an old woman with faded talent.

Image result for images sweet bird of youth newman

Chance services and uses her in the hopes of getting a Hollywood screen test.  When he meets her he is as wounded as she is – both aging performers of their profession; and she begins to love him for his weak misunderstanding of mortality.  They, at the moment of the play, are one and the same.

At the most critical moment of the play when she is feeling most needy, most dependent, most human, and most generous, he rejects her for the young lover he was forced to abandon a number of years before.   When she receives a call from Walter Winchell, an influential Hollywood columnist, telling her that her movie was not the disaster she fled from, but an unequivocal success, she reverts to her old, arrogant, mean, and selfish self and rejects Chance.

The movie version has a Hollywood ending.  Alexandra del Lago returns to Hollywood to acclaim, and Chance although beaten up by Boss Finley’s thugs, goes off with Heavenly, his young former lover.

The original Williams version ends with Chance getting castrated by Finley’s son; but before he is, he and Alexandra talk philosophically about time, age, and death.
CHANCE: Princess, the age of some people can only be calculated by the level of – level of – rot in them.  And by that measure, I’m ancient.
PRINCESS: What am I? – I know, dead, as old as Egypt…Isn’t it funny? We’re sitting side by side in this room, like we were occupying the same bench on a train – going on together…
CHANCE: No, listen.  I didn’t know there was a clock in this room.
PRINCESS: I guess there’s a clock in every room people live in…
CHANCE: It goes tick-tick, it’s quieter than your heart-beat, but it’s slow dynamiter, a gradual explosion, blasting the world we lived in to burnt-out pieces….
PRINCESS: Yes, time…
CHANCE: Gnaws away like a rat gnaws off its own foot caught in a trap; and then with its foot gnawed off, and the rat set free, couldn’t run, couldn’t go, bled and died…
Is Tennessee Williams’ vision distorted for Hollywood when Shakespeare’s is not because his characters are modern and therefore more recognizable? Is it because with a few tweaks and edits his plays can easily be transformed into Hollywood?

Williams’s plays are very close to melodrama.  His lyrical language, his delicate, vulnerable characters,  undercurrents of sexuality, vaguely disguised themes of incest are saved only by the persistence of his belief.  Dishonesty, deceit, mendacity, and especially human cruelty are unforgivable.  

There is something very melodramatic if not campy about Blanche Dubois and her ‘kindness of strangers’, something very close to caricature about Stanley. Suddenly Last Summer is very much grand guignol with murder, cannibalism, and incest the themes.

The plays of Williams like those of Arthur Miller, O’Neill, and Albee make good Hollywood because of their inherent melodrama.  Mourning Becomes Electra is almost laughingly soap opera.  All My Sons although a powerful morality play, is pretentious and very easily caricatured.  Albee is the least melodramatic of his colleagues, but American Dream is no less grand guignol than O’Neill’s early plays.

Image result for images mourning becomes electra

Tweaking any of these plays to make them Hollywood-ready is no surprise.  They were meant for the movies and are great American entertainment.

Shakespeare, Ibsen, Strindberg, and Chekov are uncompromisingly honest and very pessimistic about the human condition.  although their plays have been adapted for the screen, they are period pieces, part of a classical theatre archive rather than real movies.

The screen adaptations of Williams have all been big box-office hits, with good reason.  Important themes – life, death, struggle, etc. – are there, but massaged into happy endings and redemption.  

He may be America’s greatest playwright, but for many he skates too close to afternoon television.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Poetry In A Chaotic Age–The Importance Of Metaphor And Meaning

Few people like poetry and find its short metaphorical references difficult.  Why parse meter and verse when prose speaks more plainly and simply? Why struggle through the abstractions of Blake or the classical references embedded in Shakespeare’s iambic pentameter when Dickens will do?

Why? Because poetry like Cubism disassembles what we are used to seeing, and reassembles it through the lens of the artist who may distort, realign, or even invert reality; but who explores essentials, foundations, principles.

In this poem Not Ideas About The Thing But The Thing Itself  Wallace Stevens reconfigures the image of a day at the end of winter into an existential view of a new reality.
At the earliest ending of winter,
In March, a scrawny cry from outside
Seemed like a sound in his mind.
He knew that he heard it,
A bird's cry at daylight or before,
In the early March wind.
The sun was rising at six,
No longer a battered panache above snow . . .
It would have been outside.
It was not from the vast ventriloquism
Of sleep's faded papier mâché . . .
The sun was coming from outside.
That scrawny cry-it was
A chorister whose c preceded the choir.
It was part of the colossal sun,
Surrounded by its choral rings,
Still far away. It was like
A new knowledge of reality
 Image result for images wallace stevens

In This Consciousness That Is Aware Emily Dickinson similarly juxtaposes daily life with the reality that we experience at the edge of consciousness.
This Consciousness that is aware Of Neighbors and the Sun Will be the one aware of Death And that itself alone
Is traversing the interval Experience between And most profound experiment Appointed unto Men --
How adequate unto itself Its properties shall be Itself unto itself and none Shall make discovery.
Adventure most unto itself The Soul condemned to be -- Attended by a single Hound Its own identity
Image result for images emily dickinson

 Hart Crane in Forgetfulness writes of the liberating nature of forgetfulness, disputing Nabokov’s premise that memory is everything, that the past is the only tangible evidence of being, that present and future are either momentary or only probable.
Forgetfulness is like a song
That, freed from beat and measure, wanders.
Forgetfulness is like a bird whose wings are reconciled,
Outspread and motionless, --
A bird that coasts the wind unwearyingly.
Forgetfulness is rain at night,
Or an old house in a forest, -- or a child.
Forgetfulness is white, -- white as a blasted tree,
And it may stun the Sybil into prophecy,
Or bury the Gods.
I can remember much forgetfulness.
 T.S. Eliot cynically wrote about the very nature of existence.
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats' feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without color,
Paralyzed force, gesture without motion
 Faulkner and Joyce wrote prose but they were poets.  There is no more poetic passage in American literature than the opening of Absalom, Absalom
From a little after two o’clock until almost sundown of the long still hot weary dead September afternoon they sat in what Miss Coldfield still called the office because her father had called it that – a dim hot airless room with the blinds all closed and fastened for forty-three summers because when she was a girl someone had believed that light and moving air carried heat and that dark was always cooler and which as the sun shone fuller and fuller on that side of the house became latticed with yellow slashes full of dust motes which Quentin thought of as being flecks of old dead dried paint itself blown inward from the scaling window blinds as wind might have blown them. 
There was a wisteria vine blooming for the second time that summer on a wooden trellis before one window, into which sparrows came no and then in random gusts, making a dry vivid dusty sound before going away; and opposite Quentin, Miss Coldfield in the eternal black which she had worn for forty-three years now, whether for sister, father, or nothusband none knew, sitting so bold upright in the straight hard chair that was so tall for her that her legs hung straight and rigid as if she had iron shinbones and ankles, clear of the floor with that air of impotent and static rage like children’s feet, and talking in that grim haggard amazed voice until at last listening would renege and hearing-sense self-confound and the long-dead object of her impotent yet indomitable frustration would appear, as though by outraged recapitulation evoked, quiet, inattentive, and harmless out of the biding and dreamy and victorious dust.
Faulkner went on to tell the story of Thomas Sutpen who left the West Virginia hollers for fame and fortune in the Mississippi Delta, but in his very American ambition and desire overlooked human nature and how it hobbles the most able and willful.

Absalom, Absalom is a story of America.  How Thomas Sutpen sought fame and fortune, defied all odds by developing ‘Sutpen’s One Hundred’ – 100 square miles of rich bottomland but land overgrown with cypress and tangled undergrowth, infested with snakes and malarial mosquitos.  Sutpen had vision, ambition, will, ingenuity, purpose, and absolute conviction.  His story is told poetically through the eyes of Miss Coldfield, his legitimate and illegitimate children, his wider family, and those living near him.

Image result for images faulkner
The novel, along with Joyce’s  Ulysses were dramatic departures from 19th century narrative fiction.  Dickens, Hardy, the Brontes, George Eliot, Du Maurier, Flaubert, and Hugo all wrote about chance, circumstance, class, opportunity, fate, and fortune.  The novels of such authors never altered reality.  If anything they accentuated it, for their heroes and heroines, for all their will and character, were subjects to and victims of fate.

Poetry of the same era, however, was far more introspective and complex.  Longfellow, for example, in his Psalm of Life wrote:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave…
There can be a no more venal and intellectually dismissive age than this one.  In the ages of Shakespeare and Moliere, the peasantry could never have been expected access to art and literature; but there is no excuse today.  We could if we wished put politics, Hollywood, Wall Street, and Things That Matter aside; but we don’t. Few of us have the interest let alone the patience to read Blake, Wordsworth, or Shakespeare; and yet it is these poets who can help us navigate our way.

The most serious poets like Rimbaud and Mallarme wrote of essences – the nature of love and accommodation.  Shakespeare wrote 154 sonnets about love and marriage.  He was less interested  in the nature of existence than he was in the complexity of ordinary human life.   No one concerned about gender and sexuality could do better than read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 20, one of the most complex and allusive of any. 
A woman's face with Nature's own hand painted
Hast thou, the master-mistress of my passion;
A woman's gentle heart, but not acquainted
With shifting change, as is false women's fashion;
An eye more bright than theirs, less false in rolling,
Gilding the object whereupon it gazeth;
A man in hue, all hues in his controlling,
Much steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth.
And for a woman wert thou first created;
Till Nature, as she wrought thee, fell a-doting,
And by addition me of thee defeated,
By adding one thing to my purpose nothing.
But since she prick'd thee out for women's pleasure,
Mine be thy love and thy love's use their treasure.
Image result for images shakespeare
Admittedly it is hard to read poetry today. Not only have we become unaccustomed to parsing metaphorical verse, but spare, allusive poetry is bound to get lost in the tsunami of media flux, speeches, advertisements, and sound bites.  We have become passive.  At best we apply logical discipline to what we hear and try to distinguish fact from fiction, truth from hyperbole; but given the torrent of unedited information, it is next to impossible to interpret analytically let alone think referentially.

And thinking referentially is what poetry is all about.  Extracting meaning from a few lines of verse and using it to put trillions of bytes of information into some perspective.
Perhaps it is disingenuous to write about poetry in an election year, a time when there is a greater volume of words, images, and  references in the media than at any other time

On the other hand, perhaps it is exactly the right time to cite verse.  There is no better moment to read allegorical and metaphorical verse than now when rhetoric and  fantasy rule.  Poetry can give grounding, pause, and intellectual reflection.

Then again there’s Ogden Nash:
One way to be very happy is to be very rich
For then you can buy orchids by the quire and bacon by the flitch.And yet at the same time People don't mind if you only tip them a dime,
Because it's very funny

But somehow if you're rich enough you can get away with spending
water like money
While if you're not rich you can spend in one evening your salary for
the year And everybody will just stand around and jeer.

If you are rich you don't have to think twice about buying a judge or a
horse, Or a lower instead of an upper, or a new suit, or a divorce,
And you never have to say When, And you can sleep every morning until nine or ten, All of which Explains why I should like very, very much to be very, very rich.

Friday, June 24, 2016

Brexit, Trump, And Populist Nationalism–The New World Order

The geopolitical world is being reconfigured.  Vladimir Putin challenged the idea of the nation-state, stating that it was a Western construct, designed and applied to promote Western interests.  Greater Russia, he went on, had a historical legitimacy assembling  Russian-speaking peoples within a resurgent  Orthodox, Slavic state.  Crimea and Eastern Ukraine had only temporarily resided outside the Russian Empire.  Ukraine was a a puppet of the United States and NATO, ruled by corrupt leaders with no historical or contemporary vision.  It was a state that was neither here nor there, inchoate, powerless, and meaningless.

The non-Russian speaking Republics were indeed part of Russia but their sovereignty was only conditional, and they were subject if not indentured to the laws, culture, and social ethic of the Slavic majority.  Putin has never conceived of a pluralistic, inclusive, diverse Russia.  His empire, like the Soviet Union and Tsarist Russia before it covers a vast territory including many small minority cultures.  Despite their militancy and rebellious defiance of Putin and ruling Russia, they have been subjugated and are allowed to express their ethnic and religious identity within very strictly controlled limits.

In other words Putin has rejected the idea of Western pluralism and democracy – the foundational pillars of the liberal European state.  He has no intention of joining Europe, NATO, or any other alliance which insists on electoral representation, political, social, and ethnic diversity.  His reach will extend as far as his hegemonic vision, will, and popular support will take him.  It is with  such a clear historical vision, a suppression of dissent, and a reward of a uniformly loyal populace that Russia will become great again.

There is no question that under his rule Muslim minorities will be marginalized and remain barely tolerated populations rather than full members of the polity.  There is no moral imperative, says Putin, to inclusivity; but there is one in preserving, promoting, and defending the Slavic, Russian-speaking majority whose cultural and ethnic roots extend to the early medieval Rus.

China’s nationalism is similar that that of Russia.  The Han Chinese politburo has the same sense of historical determinism, the same intent to preserve classical Chinese culture and tradition, and the same defiant rejection of Western liberalism.  While the Uighur and other ethnic minorities are indeed targets of Han Chinese cultural imperialism, they can do little against the overwhelming political, social, and military power of the ruling party.   Unlike the Russians who continue to tolerate ethnic minorities while subjugating them, Chinese leaders want to expunge all traces of minority culture and influence and encourage, by any means necessary, the progressive integration of these minorities into the majority culture.                           

Unlike Western critics who insist that diversity is an absolute good and most representative of the higher ethics of democracy which ensure pluralism and civil rights, the Chinese value the integrity of a traditional, millennia-old Han culture which remains the ideal not only for China but for the world.
France is a country with a fabled history.  It was Roland and Charlemagne who held off the Muslim armies at Roncesvalles and saved Europe.  For that feat alone France considers itself la fille aînée de l'Eglise; but through the Middle Ages and especially the Renaissance and the Enlightenment French culture, literature, philosophy, science, and art were supreme.  Today’s ethnic French are heirs to more than a thousand years of cultural achievement, political and military power.

Image result for image roncesvalles charlemagne

It is no surprise that such ethnic French are angry, hostile, and aggressively protective of their culture which they see as threatened by Muslim immigrants and residents who defiantly reject it.  We are not all French, they say, obverting the classic French statement of laïcité.

Nationalism in France today is not the xenophobic racism depicted in the progressive press.   It is a reaction to what is seen as the erosion if not destruction of the legacy of a storied past.  French neo-nationalism is most definitely and unapologetically French, European, and Christian.

ISIS, al-Qaeda, and the Taliban share this same vision of cultural, ethnic, and religious hegemony.  Nothing less than an Islamic Caliphate – a theocratic kingdom extending throughout the Middle East and beyond – will do; and, like Russia, they have rejected Western liberalism, secular democracy, and the civil rule of law.  Such a Caliphate would not, unlike Russia, tolerate difference.  Their belief in the absolute rightness of a Muslim Empire is such that it would only be their duty to oblige compliance to its rules.

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The exit of Great Britain (Brexit) from the European Union has less to do with anger at a ponderous bureaucracy run by non-elected commissioners who set insufferable pan-European rules and regulations than it does with nationalism. There is a feeling in Britain that its sovereignty is being threatened by a supra-national authority and that its culture is being eroded by the massive influx of foreigners and refugees.

Great Britain, like France, China, and Russia has an imperial history which has influenced art, culture, politics, and civil society for over a thousand years.  It was unmatched in global reach, military power, maritime supremacy, and universally admired for the intellectual achievements of philosophers, scientists, and poets.   There is a cultural ethos to Great Britain as there is in other historically powerful countries.  There are certain traditions – independence, sovereignty, justice, fair play, and enterprise – which continue in modern Britain.  It is not simply a country defined as all others by a pluralistic mix of ethnicities, races, and religions; certainly not a European country with distinct historical and cultural roots, but a unique country, one with a shared ethos.

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While it is certainly true that the Leave voters were predominantly older ethnic Britons with a clear recent memory of Britain’s heralded past; and that those who voted Remain were younger Britons who had increasingly looked to the wider world of Europe; but the populist mandate, after much debate and contention, has one the day.  Britain is no longer European.  It never was, but agreed reluctantly to assimilation for fifty years.

The United States has become more overtly nationalistic than ever.  Donald Trump speaks for tens of millions of Americans who feel their traditional culture – Christian, fundamentalist, socially conservative, patriotic, entrepreneurial, and English-speaking – is being taken over by unwelcome newcomers.  Despite our long history of immigration and polyglot society, there is something ‘American’ about the country.  As a relatively young country none of us are far removed from Western expansionism, virile industrialism, frontier justice, and farm family values.  The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights are living documents – often distorted and misinterpreted, but still revered as statements of national identity, purpose, and character.

The current angry nationalism has more to do with the aggressiveness of advocates of ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’.  It is not that Americans do not welcome foreigners or reject any but white bread culture.  It is just that diversity, separatism, and ethnic, racial and gender identity have been militantly forced on a conservative, traditional base.  Suddenly the Danes and the Dutch, traditionally the most tolerant and welcoming countries of Europe, are shocked by the cultural disruption provoked by massive refugee immigration, Muslim terrorism and Islamic militancy.  Enough is enough, they say.  We are all for pluralism but at a pace which ensures full assimilation into traditional culture.

The Trump and Brexit phenomena are not one-off events.  Resurgent nationalism is here to stay.  There must be years if not decades of social and political realignment before any resolution can come about.  The EU is sure to disband and reorganize by nation, each of which will be more demanding and insistent on cultural hegemony and full social integration of all residents and newcomers.   The nationalism sparked by Donald Trump will not go away. In the past four years progressive policies have become increasingly aggressive and have hardened the resolve of  Trump supporters and helped gain new ones. .

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 The world is now very, very different than it was five years ago before Russian imperialism, the Arab Spring, ISIS, the rise of the Far Right and Brexit.  Nationalism is back, and the next president better get in step quickly and surely.