Na­tions and hu­mil­i­a­tion

U.S. serves up laugh­ter, with a side of dread

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - HEATHER MAL­LICK Heather Mal­lick’s com­men­tary ap­pears in Torstar news­pa­pers. hmallick@thes­

Watch­ing U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump schlep around Paris in a per­pet­ual state of faux pas — ig­nor­ing Me­la­nia Trump, man­han­dling Brigitte Macron, seiz­ing and pat­ting down Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron, ren­der­ing the French air kiss as an At­tack of the Wet Lips — was ex­cru­ci­at­ing but amus­ing.

Trump, fa­mously in­se­cure, must dimly grasp his own hu­mil­i­a­tion. When peo­ple feel hurt, they lash out, and lash­ing out is what Trump does best. For in­stance, be­cause Trump hates his own weight and age, he hu­mil­i­ates women for the de­cline in his own ap­pear­ance. All hate is re­ally self-hate.

Trump was elected by hu­mil­i­ated white vot­ers lash­ing out. But can coun­tries with lead­ers like Trump be them­selves hu­mil­i­ated in the eyes of the world?

I was em­bar­rassed by for­mer PM Stephen Harper and was hap­pi­est when he didn’t visit for­eign coun­tries. I am hu­mil­i­ated by Canada’s treat­ment of Indige­nous peo­ple, so I do the Cana­dian thing, forc­ing away praise by re­mind­ing for­eign­ers of it.

But coun­tries are not peo­ple. They are struc­tures. Can na­tional struc­tures feel hu­mil­i­ated? For­eign af­fairs jour­nal­ist Gideon Rach­man, writ­ing in the Fi­nan­cial Times, says yes.

He of­fers three paths of greater or lesser hu­mil­i­a­tion for Britain in Brexit talks: 1. It to­tally caves in to EU terms. 2. It leaves without a deal and wrecks its econ­omy.

3. It fi­nally aban­dons Brexit for the dis­as­ter it is.

Rach­man says hum­bling can be good for a coun­try, even­tu­ally. Ger­many, hu­mil­i­ated af­ter the First World War, shunned af­ter the Sec­ond World War, is now a some­what apolo­getic na­tion try­ing to win back some moral sta­tus.

But China is re­act­ing to its 19th-cen­tury hu­mil­i­a­tions with fear­some na­tion­al­ism. Rus­sia is lash­ing out af­ter the col­lapse of the Soviet Union fin­ished it off as a world leader. It marches into Ukraine, it med­dles in a U.S. elec­tion. One does what one can to wreck the world.

Na­tions might well suf­fer from the same sta­tus anx­i­ety that in­flicts in­di­vid­u­als. I was stunned to read a petu­lant col­umn by for­mer Harper staffer An­drew MacDougall warn­ing Omar Khadr not to buy an ex­pen­sive Canada Goose parka be­cause it might ir­ri­tate his fel­low Ed­mon­to­ni­ans who bought cheaper coats “without a set­tle­ment from the govern­ment” (be­cause they were not tor­tured at age 15, in­jured and im­pris­oned).

MacDougall thinks like a tween see­ing a class­mate with a bet­ter out­fit. He re­veals his con­tempt for Ed­mon­to­ni­ans in pre­dict­ing how they will re­act and be­have. He’s rop­ing good peo­ple into his own hurt.

Harper and MacDougall feel hu­mil­i­ated by their elec­tion loss. They re­sent the Khadr set­tle­ment even though it was made, as such set­tle­ments are, be­cause it was the right thing to do, and to end a bat­tle that could have cost tax­pay­ers many more mil­lions.

Here’s the ques­tion: do na­tions lash out like this and end up hu­mil­i­ated? Does the per­sonal be­come the na­tional?

Yes. The fail­ure of the French and the Bri­tish to co-op­er­ate on the “Jun­gle” mi­grant camps at the port of Calais was an ex­am­ple of a prob­lem that per­sisted and dam­aged each na­tion, al­though nei­ther wanted the mi­grants in the first place.

Canada is stuck with the United States run by Trump. There it sits be­low us, filled with good neigh­bours with one hel­la­cious boss. To get along with this emo­tion­ally fire­worked coun­try, Canada has to be will­ing to look fool­ish. It must show pub­lic re­straint in its com­ments, even in this hot sum­mer that re­minds us how im­por­tant the Paris cli­mate ac­cord is.

France hu­mil­i­ated it­self in Sec­ond World War with Vichy, among other things, which is why they re­main de­fen­sive and stiff with in­dig­na­tion. But then al­most all of Europe did the same.

Rach­man says Britain will be rav­aged in Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions. David Cameron held a ref­er­en­dum, Theresa May held a snap elec­tion and, with each move, the Bri­tish peo­ple split fur­ther apart.

The an­swer for politi­cians is to fos­ter unity at home and thus present an ac­cept­able face to the world.

Trump is do­ing the op­po­site. Look at that ridicu­lous man, that cred­u­lous na­tion. They served up laugh­ter to the world, with a side or­der of pure dread.

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