Nationalism For Me But Not For Thee

Walter Russell Mead’s latest Wall Street Journal column warms the cockles of my cold, old American heart. In it he points out that French President Emmanuel Macron’s posturing about nationalism is a pile of crapola and just about everything he or France more generally does is motivated, not be high-minded statesmanship, but by narrow nationalism:

But Mr. Macron’s posturing aside, the French are nationalist to the core. Ask the European parliamentarians and their staffers who must make the expensive, time-consuming, carbon-emitting trip from Brussels to Strasbourg once a month to maintain the absurd fiction that French Strasbourg is the home of the European Parliament. Ask any European negotiator who has tried to prune back the Common Agricultural Policy, a giant boondoggle under which France is the largest recipient of funds. Ask any Italian diplomat about French policies in Libya. Ask any American negotiator about France’s approach to trade. Ask any German diplomat who has had a few drinks.

French diplomacy under President Macron is as nationalist as ever. His core objective is to shift EU economic policy in France’s favor. Mr. Macron hoped introducing market-based reforms in France would persuade Germany to loosen the EU purse strings and give Paris more fiscal running room. Then, perhaps, the resulting boost to the French economy would reconcile public opinion to Mr. Macron’s reforms. But he has not made much progress, in part because the German government is too weak to take large political risks. Now he is facing voters’ wrath.

I suspect that is news to most Americans but it isn’t news to me. 23 years ago I observed that I didn’t see how the Common Agricultural Policy would survive with the admission of Romania to the EU and have since repeated it here. The answer is that France has been waging a self-serving delaying action to ensure that Poles and Romanians continue to subsidize French farmers. And Germany?

How can we tell that Germans are nationalistic? By what they do and don’t do. After World War II, Germany took in between 12 million and 14 million German refugees expelled from Poland, Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union. There was grumbling, but by and large the newcomers found places to live and settled down. The transition for the one million non-German refugees who came to the country in 2015, however, has been much less smooth. The political reaction continues to wound Angela Merkel’s government and the political establishment.

Similarly, Germans have paid roughly €2 trillion to lift East Germany in the years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, but they fight any suggestion that they should show that kind of solidarity to Italy or Greece. The Federal Republic of Germany is a “transfer union” in which rich areas subsidize poor ones on a very large scale. Germans do not want the EU to work that way. This difference in attitude exemplifies how nationalism works: You do things for “your own” people that you would never do for others.

The French and Germans aren’t alarmed at nationalism. They’re alarmed at American nationalism because for the last several decades they’ve been able to enlist the U. S. to pursue their national interests while neglecting its own in the interests of internationalism.

It reminds me of the complaints about trade war between the U. S. and China. Where were the complaints about trade war when the Chinese began waging a trade war against us 30 years ago? The complaints aren’t about free trade or trade war. They’re about the U. S. looking after its own interests.

7 comments… add one
  • Guarneri Link

    Sorry for the o/t, Dave. But I’ve cited this referenced piece so many times (its a 2003 hearing and can be searched) and I just stumbled across this commentary and excerpts. So…….. The vitriol of Frank and Waters only comes through in the TV clips, but these excerpts give one the flavor. Quite a different prism than just greedy banks suckering unsuspecting borrowers. This was designed government policy/social engineering. Note the dates, and recall my commentary that it was when Bill Clinton took office that his administration began to push the act on lenders. (and recall that I was at a bank until 1996 and saw this in action, on the business loan side, with my own eyes and ears) It gained momentum over time, (also recall my observation that the effects on home pricing had become evident by 1996), sprinkle in a loose Fed, and the rest is history. Damned GWB…..

    “In the 1990s and early 2000s a small cadre of House Democrats, most prominently Waters and Barney Frank (D-MA), worked in cahoots with then-CEO of Fannie Mae, Franklin Raines, to loosen mortgage lending standards and practices for the purpose of making homeownership a reality for a greater number of economically disadvantaged Americans. (Raines was subsequently embroiled in a scandal at Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae that resulted in him having to pay a record $24.7 million settlement.)
    At the time Waters heaped praise upon banks and lending institutions for allowing people to sign on the line for loans they could not afford, saying in a September 2003 hearing of the House Committee on Financial Services:

    “Mr. Chairman, we do not have a crisis at Freddie Mac, and in particular at Fannie Mae, under the outstanding leadership of Mr. Frank Raines. Everything in the 1992 act has worked just fine. In fact, the GSEs have exceeded their housing goals. What we need to do today is to focus on the regulator, and this must be done in a manner so as not to impede their affordable housing mission, a mission that has seen innovation flourish from desktop underwriting to 100 percent loans.”

    In later comments during the hearing, Waters made clear the true mission for Fannie and Freddie that Democrats had in mind, which was finding ways to get minorities into mortgaged houses even if they could not meet qualification requirements for standard loans, such as the ability to bring a down payment to the closing transaction or to borrow an amount in excess of typical underwriting limits.

    “Since the inception of goals from 1993 to 2002, loans to African-Americans increased 219 percent and loans to Hispanics increased 244 percent, while loans to non-minorities increased 62 percent. Additionally, in 2001, 43.1 percent of Fannie Mae’s single-family business served low-and moderate-income borrowers….”

    Congressional and public records alike show that at the time Waters was a staunch opponent of anything resembling more oversight of lenders or lending practices; thus, more and more loans were made to those least able to pay them back and most likely to default.


    There is a companion piece of a hearing in which regulators are all but called racists for daring to question the policy.

  • steve Link

    I think if you want to loosely define nationalism as a nation trying to look after its own economic interests, then everyone is engaged in nationalism. I dont think that is the part of nationalism that has people worried, or at least not a lot. It is the insistence upon a uniform national identity coupled with that identity being dictated by the group in power. Using that definition of identity to punish, exclude, harass and even kill those who dont conform to that idealized norm worries people. Insisting that your nation because of those ideals is superior to every other nation and that gives you the right to act unilaterally, ignoring norms and even laws and treaties, is what worries people.

    Drew- Link please. Note that your piece just says F&F just served a lot of poor people, not whether those loans failed. From memory, so I could be wrong, but as I recall, at least partially as a result of the scandal, Fannie and Freddie were not allowed, in the peak years, to participate very much in the subprime market. The loans that were passed out to the poor people before the subprime run up actually performed pretty well. It was really the exploding ARMS, 125% mortgages and liars loans that really failed (none of those created by the federal government). Those were not going through the CRA or Fannie/Freddie, though they were used to rescue a lot of those loans late in the cycle.

    Also, who was in charge of Congress in 2002? Barnie and Waters were running the place? Really? OK, I guess that is good news for you since that means the GOP can continue to run the House even when the Dems have more congressmen.


  • Just as a reminder, Steve, I don’t think you can find anyone who has argued more strenuously for punctiliously observing norms and treaties than I. Examples of our violating international accords to which we are party: bombing Serbia, bombing Libya, supporting the rebels in Syria.

    Using that definition of identity to punish, exclude, harass and even kill those who dont conform to that idealized norm worries people.

    I can cite examples from UK, France, and Germany today that fit that definition. Can you give an example from America today? The only ones I can think of are related to transgender and those are being fought out in the courts even as we speak.

  • steve Link

    I think that nationalism plays a big part in the desire to fix immigration in many circles, especially with Trump supporters. Most people on the left want to fix the problem also. E verify is a great way to approach it since our big problem right now is not new people coming into the country illegally, but people overstaying on visas and people who are already here. Declaring that Mexicans are rapists, that there are large numbers of criminals among entering groups without any evidence, claiming they are bringing diseases like smallpox. That is playing upon fear, and the desire to make the US conform to their idealized version of the US. (Also without any liberals if they could do that also, hence the term “Real Americans”.)

    I also don’t think that US nationalists, Trump’s base, have given up on the gays either. Read Dreher or any social conservative, the writers who represent the Trump base. They still want gays back in the closet. No marriage, no job protections. Then you have the alt-right and there outright anti-Semitism.

    So, I think you are correct that we are not there yet, but there is certainly a movement that wants to take us in that direction.

    As to the foreign policy stuff, there is some overlap between the neocons and the nationalists and the liberal interventionists. Basically, you just aren’t considered a serious foreign policy person unless you are willing to invade or bomb somewhere. However, historically I think you have to say that nationalism, in its toxic form, has probably been the most harmful, but the neocons have been the worst of late.


  • I think that nationalism plays a big part in the desire to fix immigration in many circles

    The sense in which it does for me is that my concern for our present citizenry is heightened relative to my concern for people overseas. There are other ways to help the poor people of Central America than bringing them here. We have been less successful in helping poor rural blacks or people living on Indian reservations, to whom I think we have a heightened obligation.

    If that’s nationalism, I plead guilty.

  • steve Link

    No, that is not the toxic kind of nationalism some people are advocating. To be honest, you dont even have to be worried about helping them at all. It is toxic nationalism when you dont want them here because they look different and sound funny, or you think they are going to turn every neighborhood into a giant taco stand, or you really do believe they are rapists and all criminals. If you believe that “Real Americans” live in rural areas and have to be the right kind of Christian, they cant be gay and certainly not gay married, then you are in the modern nationalist group.


  • TarsTarkas Link

    Speaking very roughly nationalism to all other countries except for the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand is ‘look like me and act like me’. Those four exceptions are ‘act like me’. Big difference. Identity politics is simply a longing to return to dog-eat-dog tribalism except based on different standards than the original tribes (which were based on kinship, not like-mindedness).

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