If there was one line of Trump’s inauguration speech on 20 January, that kept echoing in many minds – and in mine too –, it was ‘From this day forward it is going to be only America first’. I heard someone comment that this entire speech could have been held a year ago, because it still sounded as if he was campaigning for presidency. Indeed the tone of anger, opposition and struggle had not yet disappeared, and I’m sure it will persist, because the complete outlook of Trump is founded on it.
The old Empire song
Somehow this week the song Old England by the Waterboys from the 1980s quite often came to my mind. It emphasises that although ‘old England is dying’, ‘still he sings an empire song, still he keeps his navy strong, and he sticks his flag where it ill belongs’. Of course imperialism, which has always mixed well with patriotism, has been the driving force behind much of Western history and has also existed in America with its Manifest Destiny. And now that Trump has claimed America for the Americans first and wants to make it ‘great’ again, the empire turns out to be not fully dead yet.
Opposition and denial
It is no coincidence that this new manifestation of patriotism has emerged also in several other Western countries: Wilders who wants the Netherlands for the Dutch first, a Brexit Britain for the British first, and so on. Populist politicians answer the call of a lot of Western people who apparently feel confronted with a threatening development they must collectively oppose.
Although the ‘new patriots’ passionately put their fellow countrymen and women on a pedestal, and want to protect them badly from anything that comes from abroad, I think this is only a surface projection of a much deeper sense of inner denial: the denial of the ongoing development towards global interconnectedness and of a growing awareness of our embeddedness in the surrounding natural world. In this sense the new patriotism differs from its predecessors.
Moving towards an interconnected world
To put this in perspective the ideas of David Korten are interesting. In his book The Great Turning (from 2006) he has argued that ‘the way of Empire’, which has been around for 5000 years, is leading to environmental and social collapse, and therefore unavoidably we are moving towards an Earth Community. According to him, this process entails an entire transformation of our culture: ‘The turning from Empire to Earth Community has two primary elements. First is a turning from money to life as our defining value. Second is a turning from relations of domination to relations of partnership based on organizing principles discerned from the study of healthy living systems.’ (p. 295) It can hardly have escaped anyone’s attention that through the centuries there has been an ongoing movement towards globalisation, and that especially in our time the world is becoming increasingly interconnected.
A cultural synthesis and planetary awareness
Although with regard to globalisation the focus has often been exclusively on the economy, this process is even more significant in a cultural and spiritual sense: increasingly we have become familiar with the rich diversity of cultures on our planet, which have existed and still exist all over the world. In retrospect the Western world has even started to reevaluate the various indigenous cultures that it had struggled against so persistently for centuries.
This development has triggered human awareness in an unprecedented way: there is the promise of a global cultural synthesis in which the best from all cultures can be integrated – to become a true melting pot. And this happens in a context of an even larger planetary awareness, which has gradually spread since the pictures of earth made by the Apollo astronauts at the end of the 1960s have become transformative icons.
Fearful, defensive minds
But although the old Empire is definitely dying, it does not easily give way to the rising Earth Community, as the popularity of the populist movement clearly shows. The old collective identities, which have been handed down to us through the centuries, no longer fit and are even showing serious cracks. Yet it turns out that a large number of people seem unable to open their minds to the presence of these worldwide changes. Fearfully, they react by clinging even tighter to their secure collective identities, enlarging them, defending them at all cost. With the sad result that new walls are being erected and border controls are being reinstalled everywhere.
The damage done and the role of law
I think the increasing number of people who feel they belong to an Earth Community are aware of the tremendous damage that the Empire has caused and will continue to be causing under the rule of the populist movement. In particular, on a macro level the natural environment will continue to suffer badly. As is well known,Trump has denied that climate change exists. In this he is a real spokesman for the entire the populist movement: climate change is absent on any populist agenda. But now that it has become clear that in 2016 the global temperature has risen one full degree, who can seriously keep on denying the reality of climate change? That’s why it is high time to get ecocide recognised as a major crime, as suggested by Polly Higgins, and to get the rights of Nature or of Mother Earth recognised by all countries, as advocated by Cormac Cullinan.
Patience and hope
I have good faith that eventually the movement towards an Earth Community will be the stronger development which will prevail. We just have to be patient. In this respect the large-scale protests on the day after Trump’s inauguration – whose very diverse participants are representatives of the Earth Community – are quite hopeful. Surprisingly, he did not react, as though it hadn’t happened at all. But, as the saying goes, sometimes silence speaks louder than words…