Bill Clinton, the former US president, has warned that America, Britain and other parts of the world are embroiled in an “identity crisis” as nationalist movements carve divisions within borders, the Guardian reports.
Clinton was making his first major public appearance on Thursday since his wife Hillary’s shock election defeat by Donald Trump, which robbed him of a widely trailed return to the White House.
Appearing relaxed and in good humour, the 42nd president spoke at the launch of a biography of Yitzhak Rabin, the late prime minister of Israel,
at the Brookings Institution thinktank in Washington. He made no reference to Trump or the bruising election but suggested that the rise of nationalism echoes the turmoil in Israel that led to the 1995 assassination of Rabin.
“In the microcosm of the Middle East he prefigured the battle that is now raging across the world, that you see in America, you see in the Brexit vote, you see in the Philippine election, you see in the debates being held in the Netherlands and France, all over, where people who claim to want the nation state are actually trying to have a pan-national movement to institutionalise separatism and division within national borders all over the world,” Clinton said.
“And nothing strikes people as unusual about that, in thinking that that loyalty is more important than the loyalty to the traditions, the rules, the laws, the development of your own nation. This is a global deal. It’s like we’re all having an identity crisis at once – and it is the inevitable consequence of the economic and social changes which have occurred at increasingly rapid pace.”
Rabin’s rise to become prime minister for the second time, putting some old adversaries in government, offering Israelis assurance that they could vote on a final peace deal and trying to reconcile conflicts within the country has lessons for the present, Clinton added.
“It is worth remembering that what happened 20 years ago is a microcosm of what is coming full bloom across the world today and these things are going to have to be worked out. He believed in the end we’d be better off sharing the future.”
In what could be construed as a dig at Trump, the former president said: “I think if you believe that climate change is real, if you believe that technology will give terrorists more options to kill people and basically delegitimise the whole idea of the nation state, then the idea of institutionalised internal conflict in nation after nation after nation is not the wisest strategy to pursue.”
Clinton, who campaigned for his wife across the country and recounted her story at the Democratic national convention only to suffer crushing disappointment in November, observed that people often “have found more political success and met the deep psychic needs people have had to feel that their identity requires them to be juxtaposed against someone else”.
He challenged the audience: “It always comes down to two things – are we going to live in an us and them world, or a world that we live in together? If you got that, in every age and time, the challenges we face can be resolved in a way to keep us going forward instead of taking us to the edge of destruction.”
Last year’s election featured moments that shocked even veteran observers when at the second presidential debate Trump paraded women who have previously accused Clinton of sexual abuse. On Thursday the Democrat decried an erosion of standards and said: “We have to find a way to bring simple, personal decency and trust back to our politics.”
He called the day of Rabin’s assassination – by an extremist Jew after Rabin had signed the Oslo peace accords with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat – as maybe his worst day in the White House. “I remain convinced that had he lived we would have achieved a comprehensive agreement with the Palestinians by 1998 and we’d be living in a different world today.”