George Friedman argues on Breitbart.com that nationalism is a positive expression of self-determination that needs to be thought of as distinct from fascism. He propounds the frankly ridiculous notion that the nationalism of Germany and Italy can somehow be separated from their eventual desire to impose their will on neighboring nations. He willfully ignores the historical reality that Germany, Italy, France, England and Russia were all nation-states in World War I; and Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire, despite being imperial, were extraordinarily nationalistic in their claims of monarchical sovereignty. In order to mobilize their populations to support their militaristic adventures, they nurtured the narrative of grievance. “We deserve to be a country” (self-determination), became “we must defend our country because your country is trying to destroy my country” bleeding into “our country is better than your country, and we’re going to prove it.” The result was not only the unmitigated and pointless disaster of “the war to end all wars,” but a direct through-line to the rise of Adolf Hitler and a far worse war.
The consequences of defeat were so economically and psychologically devastating to Germany that the Nazis were able to harness legitimate grievances into imagined ones. It wasn’t enough to rise up to prosperity and pride, it had to be superior, it had to seek revenge and destroy its enemies. This was articulated by Josef Goebbels, the Nazi propaganda minister. What other choice did Germany have when these “enemies” hated Germans for being “decent, brave, industrious, hardworking, intelligent.” What people would not want to believe that about themselves? And of course internal enemies had to be conjured — consisting of the Jews and the “international conspiracy” –determined to destroy the German people. That’s how they sold the war. Germany was simply operating in self-defense against those who don’t want her to be great again. The Nazis knew that love of fellow man will not motivate a people to go to war, they must be driven by fear and hate.
Which brings us to Donald Trump. He is cultivating the same posture of defense against internal and external enemies. His “movement” is constituted by mere “decent Americans” who are simply saying “enough.” (They may be “poorly educated” but they are “smart.”) Illegal immigrants are the new Jews, and Democrats are the new Bolsheviks. He uses the classic ploy of the best defense is a good offens(ive,) accusing his opponent of what he himself is most guilty of – being a bigot.
Trump thinks he is using the alt-right, but the alt-right is using him. They are mainstreaming the psychology that “European-Americans” are under attack, that “white genocide” is a real threat. Steve Bannon realizes that this process must be a gradual one. He understands your average Trump supporter, Clinton-wary independent, and regular old conservative Republican all have in common one thing besides their skin color: the need to believe that they are good people who are merely fighting for their legitimate rights as Americans. In this case, the strategy is reversed. The best offense is a good defense. Convince regular people they are under attack for just being regular people, and they will begin to think they need to fight back.
I frankly don’t think Trump has the intellectual capacity to understand any of this. For God’s sake, he has been throwing out multiple-choice questions to the audience to help determine immigration policy. He is only concerned with finding a way to win — or rather, not lose – which is really his greatest fear. All he cares about is protecting his ego. But make no mistake, he is reading from an old playbook that has just been updated. (Gays are okay now, and African-Americans and Latino get to be called “communities of color.” Oh wow, thanks.)
Bannon knows Trump will lose this election. He is playing a much longer game.