Xenophobia – fear of foreigners – Robert Reich tells us in his latest excellent video is the new “word of the year”. He goes on to explain the rise of xenophobia in the world as a reaction to “globalization” and comments on the threat that xenophobia presents to traditional American values of tolerance and self-government. All too true.
Globalization has several facets and one can hardly empathize with how multinational corporations have spread a banal consumer culture – more McDonalds, Chevys, and sneakers – to every corner of the earth. Moreover, those unchecked corporate values have systematically exploited the world’s poor for cheap labor while abusing the earth’s remaining resources. It is clear, as Bernie Sanders has pointed out, that our trade policies must be more sensitive to avoid mindlessly exporting our manufacturing and jobs to obtain cheap labor and the ability to pollute an unregulated environment. Our failure to address those issues has exacerbated nativism in the US and explains the success of Trump’s demagoguery.
But something else has happened under the radar while the American public obsessed about deflategate and the latest reality TV. A multinational, largely educated and intelligent middle-class has been rising in the great international cities and universities of the world. This too is a form of globalization, of internationalism, and it is almost all good. At McGill University in Montreal, where my daughter studies, 25.5 percent of the student body hails from a country other than Canada. Many students today are comfortable studying abroad, learning a much more ecumenical respect for variant cultures. Many students are multi-lingual and subscribe to a borderless international world perhaps best reflected by social media. Tonight in Montreal, there will be New Year’s Eve parties where young intellectuals slide effortlessly between English, French, and Spanish, and where young men and women talk, in real time over their Facetime or Google Chat with lovers in Stockholm or Manila. For these young men and women, there is a new world in which the whole panoply of ethnic and racial diversity is endlessly fascinating, but which, at the end of the day is like points in “Whose Line is it Anyway?” – it doesn’t really matter.
This multinational, international culture is being resisted tooth and nail by the nativists, racists, and bigots among us. The fear and hate inherent in xenophobia is powerful. The best of us are in for a fight. But understanding our common humanity is our strongest weapon and our best hope.