Globalization and Nationalism: Get Ready for More Fascist Violence

April 28, 2018

The news today is not good for the world. A 19-year-old neo-Nazi opens fire yesterday on a Jewish synagogue in California, far-right nationalists have  won seats in Spain’s parliament, Hindu nationalists are waging a violent campaign against Muslims in India, far-right nationalists just came in second in Finland’s national election, and while the members of the Chabad of Poway synagogue were being shot, a group of white nationalists stormed a bookstore in Washington DC, chanting “This land is our land!” to an audience listening to an author speak about the rise of white nationalism.  Fascists in the streets in Germany, anti-gay murders in the Congo, and neo-Nazis “emboldened” in America.

What the hell is happening?

First of all, this isn’t something we can just blame on Donald Trump. Trump, like Brexit in the UK, is a manifestation of the problem. He has just added fuel to the flames of a fire destined to leave the world in ashes.

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One of my first jobs as a graduate student at Emory University, before I dove into the world of white supremacy, was analyzing the birth of the global economy. Working as a research assistant for the late, great Dr. Terry Boswell, one of the leading authorities on World Systems Theory, I was running computer regressions on the shipping patterns of Dutch traders in the 1500s to find the moment that money became more important than nations. For the last 500 years, we’ve worked on a global economic model. World War I was the last gasp of the old empires and now everything we have comes from somewhere else. If you wonder where our manufacturing jobs went, consider this statistic – 10% of every product exported out of China is headed to a Walmart store. The price of tea in China has mattered for centuries, as does the Nikkei index does now.

Globalization has been the norm for a while. It’s an inherently complex web of social and economic interactions that makes the world a smaller but more interconnected place. Some people’s brains can’t handle complexity, so they grunt “America first!” or “Leave!” and quit important international treaties because their little boy impulse is to take their toys, go home, and build a wall. The reality is that globalization has both benefits and harms. The workers of Thailand have better labor protections but the first world is dumping all its toxic plastic trash in Thailand’s formerly lush forests. Sorry.

There is a direct connection between the pushback against globalization and the rise of Trump and the other nationalist movements, each surrounded by waves of hate-motivated violence, like yesterday’s synagogue shooting. World Systems Theory has demonstrated that nations get about a hundred year tenure as “king of the hill,” whether it’s Spain and its massive armada, the British Empire (where the sun never sets), or the American Century. At the end that period, there’s usually an economic crash, and a new king (or “global hegemon”) is crowned. Since the American Century is generally viewed as beginning at the end of WWI (November 11, 1918), our hundred years is ending and look forward to a period of fascist isolationists pulling up their drawbridges until a new global power (China?) assumes the thrown. Donald Trump will have succeeded in making the USA a second string country. If we’re lucky.

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The neo-Nazis who organized the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville in 2016 (who Trump still claims included some “very fine people”) are anti-globalists. They see the world controlled by a cabal of “international Jews” (as Henry Ford called them), destined to destroy “white society.” Earlier today I was lurking on 4chan, a haven for white nationalist boys. I wanted to get a feel for their reaction to the (latest) synagogue shooting. It didn’t take long to see the standard sociopathic anti-Semitism:

“The only solution to the Jewish Problem is extermination, that is to say genocide, which the Germans were too nice to do. Those genes are too harmful to everyone else. The second half of the 20th century demonstrates the need for Jewish extermination.” – posted on 4chan at 10:48 am on 4/28/19

The posts on 8chan, where the synagogue shooter posted his manifesto were even worse, complaining how whites have become “Jew-cucked” making it “OKAY TO KILL JEWS.” It is endless bile from fragile boys building walls in a world that thrives by opening doors.

To be fair, there’s plenty of anti-globalization from the left who see the global forces of capitalism destroying worker rights, as well as the earth itself, as multi-national corporations push for profits. The renewed campaign by the global media to make “socialism” a dirty word is certainly evidence for their position. “We are the World” doesn’t get sung much anymore.

Right-wingers have scapegoated refugees, the media, civil rights activists, feminists, transgendered kids who have to use the bathroom, and anyone who challenges the “God-given privilege” of straight, white, cis-gendered, able-bodied males. The global move to equality feels like oppression to them, whether they are “Incels” in America killing women in yoga studios or Saudi Arabian religious officials cutting off the heads of gay men. Hate crimes have surged in America along with Trump’s “Make America great again” campaign. If by “again,” he means 1949, we are well on our way.

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Walls are going up all around the world as those who don’t know how to manage the complexity of globalization retreat into simple “us verses them” nationalism. They will wage violent war against those who represent that complexity (like any non-White Anglo Saxon Protestants, including Muslims and Latinx immigrants) as well as those they think are agents of the push toward globalization (including Jews, the media, and any international partnerships, like the UN, NATO, and the Paris Climate Agreement). They hug flags and want their tax dollars to go straight to the military.

Buckle your seatbelts because the American Century is crashing to a close as the world’s tribes pull up stakes and get ready to go it alone, waging war on anyone who they think doesn’t belong in their camp. We are quite literally at a turning point in human history where we fall into a dark chasm of endless dystopian fascism. Or we could find a better, catchier version of “We Are the World” and banish these troglodytes to their caves. It’s that or start learning how to speak Mandarin Chinese. 我们是世界。

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I have found what I was looking for, Bono.

April 14, 2019

I have climbed the highest mountains

Whenever friends or family would come to my little Georgia town, we’d force them to climb its namesake, Stone Mountain. It’s the largest exposed piece of granite in the world and offers a pretty spectacular view of countless pine trees from its nearly 1700 foot summit. On a clear day, you can see Atlanta, which calls itself the “city too busy to hate” in an effort to claim a full agenda gets white people off the hook. We took everyone up that mountain, even my grandparents. There was something spiritual about rising above the tree line, while seeing the graffiti of lovers from the 18th century etched into the rock.

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As a kid I didn’t understand the historical significance of the mountain, which features the largest Confederate memorial carved right into its face. On Thanksgiving night, 1915, a group of hooded white men, including two elderly members of the original Ku Klux Klan, climbed the mountain, raised the Confederate flag, opened a Bible, and, for the first time, burned a 16-foot cross. The modern KKK was born on my mountain. The century of murder and terror it waged against Americans had its inglorious beginning on Stone Mountain. The land beneath it was owned by a Klansman and they still return to its summit, like a white supremacist Mecca.

Walking in the footsteps of those first Klansmen would lead the way towards a lifetime of studying hate and trying to understand organized racism. This included time spent undercover in the white supremacist movement. I’ve seen crosses set alight by men in robes and it made the blood freeze in my veins. This long career has been dedicated to trying to undue what those men started on my mountain in 1915. It’s taken me around the world and brought me to what I had been looking for all along, the antidote to hate.

I have kissed honey lips

Most of my life I have been untethered. I felt like I was floating from one 4 minute music video to another. Even when I was “in love,” I had a few toes out the door, ready for the next song cycle to carry me where it might. There were some epic romances, followed by a divine right to the blues and red red wine. My passport was full but I wasn’t going anywhere, locked in a Möbius strip.

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For much of that life fully lived, the music of U2 provided a soundtrack of freedom. The summer of 1986 I ended up back in Dublin (after working in Copenhagen for a few weeks). U2 was recording their soon-to-be revered Joshua Tree album. I was meeting with Bono as he wanted me to help him compile a release of unsigned American rock bands for their vanity label, Mother Records. (The compilation never was finished but he loved the tape of my roommate’s band, drivin’ ’n’ cryin’ and they were soon signed to U2’s label, Island Records. “Randy, I am a drivin’ ’n’ cryin’ fan,” he said, grabbing my shoulders.) The summer of ’86, I told him way too much about my challenging love life. Part of that summer had been spent with Sinead O’Connor in London, watching her shave her head for the first time. Part of my heart was back in the states with my girlfriend who was leaving me for a life in Paris. I was 22 and had no idea how love was supposed to work.

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He told me the new album would have more love songs and be less political in its themes. The band was exploring more colors from its sonic palette. The following spring, I was driving in Los Angeles when I first heard the final product on KNAC radio; “Where the Streets Have No Name,” soaring as I drove across Mulholland Drive on top of the Hollywood Hills. The world opened up below me. The definitive musical statement of the 1980s had been made and it reflected everything I was at that moment, searching, running to stand still.

You broke the bonds, you loosened chains

My work studying racism and finding an audience in the ancient world of the university earned me the top rank as a tenured full professor at Hogwarts. I had leveraged my position, pushing the faculty to strike against the swollen trolls of the administration to build a university the cared more about easing student debt than the ever-expanding supply of overpaid deans. (If you didn’t know, Hogwarts has more troll deans than you can shake a wand at.)

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All that fell silent when she walked into the room. All the colors bled into one. Angel or devil, I couldn’t tell. I tried to put her out of my mind and went back to my lectures about how romantic love was a “social construction of reality,” a lie that we believe because we’ve been brainwashed by sappy songs and rom coms. I was still in my Möbius loop. “Maybe I should try online dating,” I thought. I tried to avoid looking at her. I worried it would be like B’rer Rabbit and the tar baby. One look and I would be stuck.

After the class was over, I ran into her in a bar. She bought me a shot of tequila and asked if I’d like to go out sometime. “I don’t date students,” I said, feeling the floor slipping out from under me. She bought me another shot. I heard Bono singing, “I can’t live with or without you.” Our friendship became more than that. I saw in her the end of the loop. She knew everything about me. All my flaws and the way out. Why had I been paying a therapist all those years? I saw in her the future mother of my children. We would not be only two people for very long. I saw in her the person who’s dreams I wanted to spend the rest of my life supporting. “I’m with her!” Soon we were married and the parents of a miraculous child who was conceived in a moment of brilliant foresight. “Let’s make a baby!”

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The trolls at Hogwarts used this love of loves as a cudgel to silence a trouble maker. (It seems on-line wizard training is much cheaper than tenured full professors, leaving more money to hire more troll deans.) I was dragged in before the council of witches, their mouths dripping with the anticipation of scoring points for the queen troll. They treated our love as some grand violation. They wanted to destroy my lifetime of work against hate. Perhaps I should have fought harder, but I was in love with my wife and new baby and seeing the monsters that profited behind the hallowed halls of Hogwarts disgusted me. I was forced resign my position and left to create something new, away from their sickness. I let go of the hand if the devil and was free.

Felt the healing in the fingertips

I should have felt like a freefall, loosing the security of a salaried tenured position and the benefits that came with it. (It was easy to not go to the dentist when you have full dental.) Thanks, Obamacare! I became a hustler, selling assets, picking up random gigs here and there. She carried the cross as I stayed home with the baby. I’d hold my little girl and chant, “Everything’s gonna be alright. Everything’s gonna be alright,” hoping the words would be a magical incantation, bringing the answer in a mighty flash of financial stability. “Vengeance is mine!” I would say, as I put some money, any money into my savings account.

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Instead, a strange healing happened as my world, once so big, was shrunk down to three people. It was a bizarre love triangle, like we were our own holy trinity. Not really us versus them, because we’ve had so many amazing people on our side. Us and them (and we think about the trolls less every day). There is a burning sun in our home that has melted us like glass into one perfectly clear entity. It might look like a blob to the outside world, but we are three voices in harmony, and, too each of us, it sounds like it’s coming the tongues of angels.

Being bounced out of my university security gave me back the hunger of my youth. I published a novel and proposed a reality TV show and found my way into cable news commentary. Each experiment was latched to hope that this would open a door that I could take my family through. My wife had her own ascendency, through her art and academic paths. She now grades her students’ exams as I write about our seemingly endless war on racism, from Stone Mountain to Trump. We are recreating the world in our image.

In the middle of all that I found what I was looking for. Hearing our daughter sing in the bathtub. Watching my wife see how her presence can help heal the great divide. Being asked to bring my experience to table after table. I had to lose it all to gain it all. I was of the world and now I am of we three, in this world. All the pieces fit. Like a teenage rock band that’s ready to take the world by storm (as U2 was in its infancy), our vision is unclouded.

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When Bono wrote the words to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” he was still childless. He didn’t become a parent until 1989. I’m guessing he would have written a different song if he had been a dad the summer of 1986. Maybe I’ll ask him someday. (He’s about as accessible as the Pope these days.) That song seemed woven into my cellular membrane in those days. Now that I’ve found it, nurturing it is what drives my bass drum beat. Only to be with you. Only to be with you.

Postscript: A lot of us have lived that song. Have you finally found it? Or are you still running? In this unhappy time, let’s share our answers. Post it, tweet it, Instagram it, shout it from the top of the Hollywood Hills. #Ihavefoundwhatimlookingfor