THE LEFT HAS YIELDED LANGUAGE TO THE RIGHT
The right has seized the language of social change. The left has allowed this to happen.
Words like populism, which just a few years ago had neutral or even leftish connotations, are now associated exclusively with Donald Trump. Even the notion of nationalism has been surrendered to the right.
Once Trump described himself as a nationalist, his critics began to demean the word.
“A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly not caring about our country,” the U.S. president said in Texas recently. “And you know what? We can’t have that … I’m a nationalist, OK?”
Writing in Esquire after that speech, journalist Jack
Holmes noted, correctly, that U.S. and global aims are not necessarily at odds with one another.
But then he went on to disparage nationalism itself, saying that in Trump’s America it represented sexism, racism and the attempt to preserve white privilege.
It was not an uncommon reaction among progressives. But it had the practical effect
of allowing Trump’s appropriation of “nationalism” — a word with generally positive connotations in the U.S. — to stand.
Right-wingers, such as former Trump adviser Steve Bannon, have also taken over the term “economic nationalism” to describe their approach. In Canada, where economic nationalism has a long and venerable history, this seems particularly odd.
Here, economic nationalism is associated with the left and liberal left. Former Liberal finance minister Walter Gordon was an economic nationalist determined to decrease the power of the U.S. over Canada. During the free-trade election campaign of 1988, so was former Liberal prime minister John Turner.
The Canadian Auto Workers, now Unifor, cited economic nationalism as one of the key reasons for breaking from its U.S. parent union. Under the banner of economic nationalism, the New Democrats forced Pierre Trudeau’s minority Liberal government to set up a publicly owned Canadian oil company.
In those days, economic nationalism was seen as a check on what used to be called American imperialism.
Now the word has been appropriated by those who would expand that imperial reach under the slogan “Make America great again.”
But the biggest rhetorical victory of the right has been its capture of the term “populist.” Hover your camera app over this code to continue reading at THESTAR.COM/OPINIONS
WORDS LIKE POPULISM ... ARE NOW ASSOCIATED EXCLUSIVELY WITH DONALD TRUMP.
Once Trump described himself as a nationalist, his critics began to demean the word, Thomas Walkom writes.