There was something deeply disturbing developing on a street in Paris this past Sunday, as world leaders came together to respect the fallen of World War One. They decided to walk together in solidarity down the Champs-Elysee as the church bells rang out at 11 a.m. to mark the moment the war ended in 1918. The reality that the leaders of the two most powerful military powers on earth refused to take part in that walk for commemoration spoke to increasing dangers our world is facing. Neither Donald Trump or Vladimir Putin opted to join the others, thereby effectively upstaging the subject of peace with the possibilities of conflict.
Everyone knew that President Trump wasn’t in a collaborative mood. It got worse an hour later when, with Trump finally present, French President Macron stated clearly that, “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism, by saying, ‘Our interests first. Who cares about the others?’ ” Macron went on to talk about how the “old demons” of nationalism were returning – the very ideologies that ended in the insanity of the First World War. Those demons – “giving in to the fascination for withdrawal, isolation, violence and domination,” he added, would cause future generations to judge the inability of those leaders present the way others had denounced the architects of the Great War.
Macron then went on to say something that Prime Minister Trudeau picked up on later: “Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism.” That President Trump had declared himself to be a fervent “nationalist” only a week earlier only made Macron’s challenge more forceful, and timely.
The distinction between “nationalism” and “patriotism” is important enough that it might just keep the world out of another war. One leads to a sense of superiority, narrow-mindedness and, as Macron described, senseless war. It isn’t always a bad thing, but it can be sensationalized to the point where it establishes borders within a nation – racism, gender inequality, rich and poor, even extreme partisanship.
Patriotism is when all people in a nation come together for a cause, for celebration of inclusiveness or for security. And it can, and must, include cooperation with other nations for the good of all humanity.
That outlook strikes a sour note with both Trump and Putin, who delight in mocking “globalists” as weak and not caring about their own countries. Marcon fought back against that notion this past week:
“I do defend my country. I do believe that we have a strong identity. But I’m a strong believer in cooperation between the different peoples, and I’m a strong believer of the fact that this cooperation is good for everybody.”
Justin Trudeau said something similar in a speech to the delegation that included a needed defense of the media: “When people feel their institutions can’t protect them, they look for easy answers in populism, in nationalism, in closing borders, in shutting down trade, in xenophobia.”
It was clear that Donald Trump was a wounded figure at the Paris meetings. The mid-terms hadn’t been kind to him and his brand of nationalism allied him more with Putin than with the other attendees. He surely felt the alienation. And yet he became president precisely due to the conditions Trudeau talked about – isolationism, threatened tariffs, angry populism, and a “divide to conquer” political strategy. He is aware that he’s a fox in the henhouse but has a supportive base wishing him to press on.
If Trudeau, Macron and the others attending Paris hope to win the “populism vs. nationalism” debate, they must find a cooperative way to more effectively tackle climate change, poverty, an unaccountable 1% and a more effective way of transferring wealth in a manner that benefits all. New and innovative ways must be found to help citizens regain trust in those global institutions that held such promise after the last world war but which lost their relevance in their pursuit of unaccountable wealth. Should such conditions endure, nationalism could prove the eventual victor in the political battle for peoples’ hearts.
Macron reminded those in attendance that peace is ultimately a fragile thing, protected not only by military capacity but also social consensus and prosperity for all. And then he uttered something profound. He told them all that the “traces of this war never went away.” He was right. The remnants of Europe’s two bloody wars were deeply entrenched in those satellite nationalist movements that have now gone mainstream. The challenge now before the leaders that assembled in Paris is not just to avoid another war, but to build a more relevant and inclusive peace.