When you woke up this morning, you woke up to nothing less but a crossroads of history. When yesterday you were nervously reading the latest headlines, or perhaps pushing weary thoughts aside to regain some much needed sense of security and normalcy, it was such a day, too. And tomorrow, or the day after, when you go to work, talk with your friends, and go about your normal existence, if you are lucky to be healthy and your immigration status, skin color, and wallet allow you, you will feel like it is an equally ordinary day, and that you are living a relatively ordinary life within it. While this is true, you will also be one of millions of people to write history.
The anti-liberal, exclusionist, anti-democratic, nationalist, fear-based, anti- intellectual logic that is growing in the US, the UK, France, and yes, unfortunately also in Germany and other European countries, is inevitably leading our governments to international disintegration, authoritarian rule, suppression of the courts and the press, the suppression first of the rights of the weakest parts of society, then some of the fundamental rights of all, and then, finally, to war.
“The name “United Nations,” coined by United States President Franklin D. Roosevelt, was first used in the “Declaration by United Nations” of 1 January 1942, during the Second World War, when representatives of 26 nations pledged their Governments to continue fighting together against the Axis powers.”
A little short of 80 years later, United States President Donald Trump expressed his interest in leaving the United Nations and the Republican Party has put a bill forward that if passed, will mean the US will withdraw from all United Nations committees, including the UN Security Council, close all affiliated and state-funded offices, and exit the organization.
Institutions like the UN, but also the EU, link states’ interests with each other, keep the nationalist, exclusionary, and anti-democratic aspirations of states in check, and have provided, as both political and economic theories and empirical studies show, some of the most effective means of avoiding war. If you want to read more about this, I suggest start with Boehmer, Gartzke, and Nordstrom’s nuanced account of the link between intergovernmental organizations and diplomatic conflict resolution, or Garzke, Li, and Boehmer’s equally helpful work on economic interdependence and peace. They try and provide a critical and sober approach to a topic that has both overly glorifying promoters on one, and overly demonizing opponents on the other hand. The truth is, as so often, in the nuanced bit in between. These institutions are by far not perfect and are being criticized and reformed as we speak. Regardless, we can be certain that they play an essential role in preserving and promoting peace, voice, and health of our fellow humans, homes, and countries.
As more and more states break away from these international institutions and isolate themselves through their “us first”-nationalism, peace amongst the nations of America and Europe, and peace in the world, is under threat. Economic interdependence has proven to lower the incentives for war; yet more and more nation-states are lead by those who glorify an economic isolationism last seen before WW1.
It’s not the under-educated, fatigued, exploited, and partly disenfranchised working class that is voting for and supporting these developments. It is overwhelmingly the white, middle class. These men and women went to college, earn between 50,000 and 100,000 a year, and own capital. They are being seduced to believe the rhetoric that the exploited and humiliated are striking back against the liberal elite; but this is a dangerous subversion of reality, the adoption of left-wing progressive ideas applied against the left itself.
This is not the working class solidarizing and fighting back, the people of color, the immigrants, women, LGBTQs, the disabled, the disenfranchised, and the poor. This is an overwhelmingly middle class, white, and over-40 years old demographic falling for an elite’s efforts to take over from the top, install authoritarian structures, and foster their absolute power. The swamp is not going to be drained by white, old billionaires, former Goldman Sachs chairmen, heads of exploitative corporations, or their allies. The swamp is getting bigger and more lethal every day as these privileged few manage to hold large parts of our societies hostage in their tale of “taking their country back”. In this logic – the powerful elite using progressive populist rhetoric making the middle-class fight the working-class AND their allies, so-called elitist liberals – lies its perverse power.
Every march counts now. Every article read, written, or shared, every conversation had, every bit of personal effort to push back against this development, no matter how small, is needed now. The personal is political, and the political is personal. We need to unapologetically solidarize with the oppressed, the marginalized, the disenfranchised by means of activism, philanthropy, and open dissent.
We need to be critical with elitist power, while taking those parts of the elite in our midst that disavow faschism and strengthen and advocate inclusive and egalitarian values, instead of pushing them away for the sake of anti-elitism. We have to foster every bit of behavior that in turn promotes the acquisition of truth, like engaging in and supporting science, critical education, investigative journalism, philosophy, and the social sciences. We have to build an opposition that is united against those who are steering our countries into certain war and destruction.
Be warned. This is not a hysteric or overly dramatic position to take. We are at a crossroads of history in the making, and I hope one day we will look back at today as the time when people managed to solidarize, defend freedom, and build a more inclusive, robust, transnational society instead of the moment in time when nationalist authoritarianism managed to divide us, turn us against each other, debilitate our resistance, disorient our sense of truth and build the path to a devastatingly dark period of history.
Today is one of those days in history. Yesterday was, and tomorrow will be one, too. You and I, however ordinary we are, we matter. We can make a difference, each contribute what we can and what we do best, and protect each other, even and especially those who are in danger of falling for the rhetoric of fascism. In my lifetime and in yours, there might never come more momentous days than yesterday, today, and tomorrow.