When self-hate fuels the actions of nations
Watching President 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 legal settlement even though it was made, as such settlements are, because it was the right thing to do, and to end a legal 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.
Until very recently, Norway was a poor country. Now it is fantastically wealthy with oil money, great dirty loads of it, and that guilty knowledge holds it back from being a powerful international force for good.
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. firstname.lastname@example.org
Humbling can be good for a country, eventually. Germany, humiliated after the Second World War, is now a somewhat apologetic nation
French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte Macron greet the Trumps in Paris on July 13. “Watching President Trump schlep around Paris in a perpetual state of faux pas . . . was excruciating but amusing,” writes Heather Mallick..