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From Zakaria and Clinton: smart takes on nationalism and asylum

Fareed Zakaria had a very strong “GPS” show Sunday, from his own opening, chilling, editorial about the meaning and dark power of nationalism to a long interview with Hillary Clinton.

Fareed Zakaria had a very strong “GPS” show Sunday, from his own opening, chilling, editorial about the meaning and dark power of nationalism to a long interview with Hillary Clinton in which she told us a number of things — including what a rational U.S. leader might do about the immigration issue.

I’ll just pass along a taste of both.

I’m afraid I’ve clung to an overly lexicological understanding of the word “nationalism.” Because of its root (“nation”), I’ve tended to think of it as an extreme devotion to one’s own country and its interests. (In fact, backs me up on this, giving five straight definitions that reflect the simple meaning of nationalists as sort of super-patriots.)

But, obviously, when one hear terms like “white nationalism,” it’s about race, not country. And this is the form of “nationalism” that is relied upon by some to explain the appeal of Donald Trump, which is, fundamentally, to whites, and especially to angry white males who, we are told, are angry about the decline in the standing of their demographic relative to, not only immigrants and those who cross the border without papers, but uppity women and (non-immigrant) people of color in general.

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I suppose, to get hep with the way the word is now used, we have to accept that in an ethnically diverse nation like ours, “nationalism” refers to both nation and ethnicity.

Before showing an interview he had done on April 12 with Clinton, Zakaria sat in his studio and opened with this:

“In 1972, the philosopher Isaiah Berlin wrote that ‘Nationalism … expresses the inflamed desire of the insufficiently regarded to count for something among the cultures of the world.’

“The sentiment – a kind of victim mentality – can be found in almost all modern versions (of nationalism), even among rich and powerful nations.” Zakaria said, then ran through examples of nationalism as the key to political success in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel, and several other places.

“In fact, despite the pose of victimhood adopted by most of these populists, nationalism is probably the most widely held ideology in the world today. Which American politician today does not speak up for America?

“The danger for liberals is that they underestimate the power of these raw emotional appeals. For centuries, liberals have assumed that nationalism was a kind of irrational attachment that would grow weaker as people became more rational, connected and worldly. …

“Meanwhile, liberals in America still don’t seem to get it. The Democratic Party continues to think the solution to its woes is to keep moving leftward economically. … This week Bernie Sanders revealed his Medicare for All plan, which four other presidential candidates cosponsored immediately. The plan will probably require two to three trillion dollars in additional annual tax revenues. At the same time, Donald Trump tweets about the Democrats’ love of open borders, and insists that he and he alone will protect the country and enforce its laws. What if Trump understands the mood of our times better than Bernie Sanders?”

I’m terrified that he might be right, or even half-right. I didn’t seriously believe Donald Trump could be elected once, so how confident can I be that he won’t be elected twice?

Zakaria said all of the above alone in his studio. Then the show aired his  interview with Clinton, recorded April 12 at the 10th annual Women in the World summit at Lincoln Center in New York.

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Clinton has kept an understandably low profile since November of 2016, but she looked and sounded and seemed great, and immediately made a case for the opposite of Trumpism: analyzing problems calmly and rationally and proposing actual approaches rather than bombast and nationalist/racist dog whistles. Here’s a taste of that:

Zakaria: “When you look at the crisis in immigration, and there is a crisis in terms of all these asylum seekers, is President Trump right in saying, essentially, ‘Look, we can’t take everyone in. We have to be tough on this issue — otherwise we will be overwhelmed. And, again, is there a danger that the Democrats will cede the issue to him?”

Clinton: “Well, if that were true. But it’s not. Here’s why. If you really were serious about dealing with immigration, which I am and believe we must be, we must not and cannot have open borders. That is not in anybody’s interest. But we also can’t demagogue the issue and expect to solve the problem.

“And so, for people who want to deny there’s a problem, or people who don’t want to solve the problem but want to use it as a political issue, they’re both, in my view, failing.

“So here’s what we could be doing, and should be doing, if the president wanted to solve the problem, as opposed to keep beating it like a political drum to try to rally his supporters.

“What is asylum? Asylum is a request by a person who, under our law, has the right to come and say: ‘There are reasons why I cannot stay in my home country. I am seeking asylum.’

“Now how do you resolve asylum cases? You resolve them by, eventually, having somebody appear before an immigration judge to have their case heard.

“Now, if you really wanted to solve this problem, you would double, you would quadruple the number of immigration judges. You would hire more people, you would send them to the border, you would begin to organize a system so that people could be quickly processed in a legal  and humane way. You would not be separating families and putting babies in cages.

“Y’know, we’re really good about doing things if we decide we want to do them.

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“You would have enough decent, humane housing; you would have people who were in a system – one of the worst things this administration has done is to separate these children and have no system that would tell you where they are.

“I would go to the big tech companies and say: ‘OK, you’ve got 15 days, give me a system so I can keep track of everyone. I’m not gonna lose anyone: no baby, no older person. Everybody is going to be in the system.

“And we’re gonna have enough judges down there. We’re gonna have decent housing conditions and we’re gonna start hearing those cases. That is what someone who wanted to solve the problem would do, as opposed to either denying it or politicizing it. And that’s what I hope, eventually, will be done.”

Almost kinda makes a person wish the candidate who got the most votes had won that election.