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With Trump’s voters, nationalism is more important than their own interests

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One of the biggest political questions in America is why Trump’s voters stick with him when they know (or should know, and could know, if they bothered to learn) that his policies are hurting them.

The latest example is his executive order on the Affordable Care Act, which “will drastically increase premiums” that will “hurt Trump voters.” Maybe those voters don’t care all that much if they pay another thousand bucks or so for health insurance. Maybe they figure that, if they get better jobs with better pay, they’ll be able to afford higher premiums—and that Trump is the guy who can boost the economy. Which, by the way, is not true. Any way you look at it, the economy and Wall Street, both of which are chugging along, were rapidly improving in Obama’s final years (after his deft management of the Bush Recession), so Donald Trump can hardly take credit (which isn’t stopping him from doing so anyway). Still, the list of ways in which a successful Trump regime will cause inordinate harm to red state, rural districts is long, and includes, not only higher insurance premiums, but environmental degradation, increased risk of war (which always hurts poor people, since it’s their sons and daughters who get killed), alienating our closest allies, the profoundly unfair granting of special tax privileges to the ultra-rich, a deteriorating infrastructure, and, most ominously, the further dividing of a country already badly fractured.

Why do people support politicians whose policies hurt them? This isn’t the first time in history it’s happened. In 1935, there was an election in the Saar, the region in southwestern Germany that was placed under joint British-French control in 1920, as part of the Treaty of Versailles. Saarlanders rightfully resented the occupation, although they had no choice but to go along; so, in that 1935 plebiscite, an overwhelming majority (almost 91%) voted to rejoin Germany. They had been convinced by a coalition of Catholic prelates and Nazis, who used Josef Goebbels’ propaganda effectively.

The Saarlanders who wished to re-incorporate back into Germany “knew what awaited them…: dictatorship, destruction of trade unions, persecution…” AJP Taylor writes (in “The Origins of the Second World War”). Yet, “in an unquestionably free election,” they voted to return to the Reich anyway, and for one reason only: Nationalism. “With this force behind him…Hitler did not worry.” He had the people behind him.

In the event, within ten years Saarlanders had reasons aplenty to regret their decision. The Saar was ravaged in the war, its coal, iron and steel industries destroyed by Allied bombs, its houses smashed, its farmlands gutted and pitted, its government dismembered. The Saarlanders had cast their lot with nationalism“exalting one nation above all others”and turned their backs on all other considerations, even the health and welfare of their families.

Of all the aphorisms about nationalism I’ve seen, I like this one, from Schopenhauer, best: Every miserable fool who has nothing at all of which he can be proud, adopts as a last resource pride in the nation to which he belongs; he is ready and happy to defend all its faults and follies tooth and nail, thus reimbursing himself for his own inferiority.”

Ironic, indeed, that Hitler claimed Schopenhauer was one of the German philosophers (along with Nietzsche, Kant and Hegel) who “provided [me] a philosophy which became the granite foundation for all my later acts.”

Mine may be a harsh judgment on America’s white nationalist Republicans, but these miserable fools, rankled by their own inferiority, deserve what they have reaped: this Trump regime. While it robs them of substance, it feeds them with empty rhetoric, provided by, not only Trump, but Bannon, a neo-nazi who once said, “Trump is the product of a seething populism and nationalism that is the driving political force.” Pro-Trump red states and red districts will be the Saarlands of America’s not-too-distant future. Unfortunately, the rest of us will be dragged along with them into the coming maelstrom.

 

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