Guest Column: How the Ukraine conflict explains American ethno-nationalism.

By United Nations Cartographic Section; Alex Khristov. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By United Nations Cartographic Section; Alex Khristov. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

By Dave Trotter

After the election of Donald Trump, the United States has been awakened to a new reality, the impact of ethno-nationalism in federal elections. Of course, many of us always thought that there was some sort of nationalist element within our body politic, but always thought that it was a minority. And while it can still be argued that it is a minority, it is a loud and vocal minority. As a result, nationalist elements have now gained electoral success.

The fact that ethno-nationalists were elected is not the scary party. The issue that is most worrisome is the way in which nationalists think. As for the United States, we have not had much experience in dealing with nationalists, and therefore do not understand their thought process. However, ethnic Russians in Ukraine can give us an idea about how the nationalist mind works.

Before I get into Ukraine, we need to ask ourselves if there is an emergence of an American nationalism. Many consider the United States a land where immigrants can retain ethnic culture and religious beliefs, a concept known as multiculturalism. On the other hand, we have the idea of assimilation, which advocates that immigrants coming to the United States must become part of American society.

How can there be an American ethnic culture in a multicultural society? The two ideas are polar opposite. But within American society, there is an emerging nationalism that seeks to reject multiculturalism. The new American ethno-nationalism, which can primarily be seen as white, Christian, and English-speaking, is the basis for Donald Trump’s support. With Trump’s election victory, it is hard to classify the United States as multicultural society. Instead, the United States seems to be in the middle of an identity crisis.

The situation in Eastern Ukraine should be extremely frightening for America’s future. Of course, the Russians in Eastern Ukraine want to promote their language and culture, but it is the thought process of these individuals that should be troublesome.

First, let’s put the Ukraine situation in context. In both the Luhansk and Donetsk Oblasts (which make up the Donbass region), there are a number of large ethnic Russian communities. At the outbreak of war, many ethnic Russians complained that their economic hardship was brought on by Kiev. They argue that if they were governed by Moscow that their economic problems would be solved. In addition, they have an ethnic connection to Russia and therefore wanted to work with Moscow over Kiev. This is, admittedly, a very simplistic view of the conflict in these oblasts.

Now, three years after the war broke out, large areas in both oblasts now have their own provisional governments that have backing from the Kremlin, including military and financial assistance. Essentially, Russia has become the de facto government of much of the Donbass region. However, the living conditions of the people are still poor. But instead of blaming Moscow, the citizens continue to blame the Ukrainian government, even though the people in this region do not consider Ukraine the legitimate government of the region. Also, they refuse to question authority in Moscow, primarily because of their ethno-nationalistic loyalty.

Another worrying characteristic of the ethnic Russians in Ukraine is their beliefs in conspiracy theories. Only a few months into the conflict, Malaysian Air Flight 17 was shot down in Donetsk Oblast, killing all on board. At the time of the accident, local ethnic Russians claimed that the flight was shot down by Ukraine so that NATO would enter the battle. Years later, even with overwhelming evidence being presented that it was indeed the Russian-backed separatists that shot down the jetliner, ethnic Russians in the region still believe that it was shot down by Ukraine. Basically, the conspiracy theory narrative confirms their world view.

If there is truly an American culture out there, based on religion, race, and language, then this type of thinking could prevail in American politics. We are already seeing Trump supporters rejecting facts in order to support their own conspiracy theories to confirm their cultural beliefs, just like those in Ukraine with Flight 17. The perfect example of confirmation bias is the travel ban of seven Muslim-majority counties in the name of security, even though nobody from these counties has ever committed acts of terrorism on American soil.

With that being said, is the true political divide in the United States between multiculturalism and American ethno-nationalism? Are Democrats refusing to admit that ethno-nationalism exists, and instead use economic hardship as a scapegoat for white voters as an extension of liberal political correctness? If that is the case, do Trump supporters see the Democratic Party as a threat to their ethno-nationalistic beliefs? If they do, then Democrats need to ask themselves if they even want to win back these voters. I believe the easy answer is no.


  1. multiculturalism ethno-nationalism?

    You say,No” You do not want white voters? or at least –those you call “ethno-nationalists?
    You don’t want unionists? What are you saying here? I am sure there are some people of multicultural background whose values are not democratic in the historic sense. In my job I have had as many problems from men of multicultural background not wanting to have a woman supervisor as white males., Attitudes toward women seem to be in need of work in all cases.,

    Win them back — the voters you have crudely named “ethno-nationalists” , Don’t abjure them as all the same.
    This essay fails to take into consideration any understanding of the waves of immigration to this nation. “white” people are vastly different and not a monolithic opaque group. For example, the Scots-Irish are radically different than the Catholic Irish. Good gracious the wealthy English brought the Ulster Scots here to fight their border wars. Who is to blame? Who made $$ from slavery? Not the imported white convicts or indentured servants, but the scions of Brown,Columbia, Harvard, Georgetown.

    Do not fall into the trap of seeing “white”people as all the same. All people deserve to be understood.


    1. I never said that white people were a monolithic group.


    2. Also, if you read the article, I state that multiculturalism and ethno-nationalism are synonyms and it is impossible for both to exist (which makes the first line of your statement impossible). As someone who lived in Montreal, I have seen this divide up close. I also see the divide currently living in southern Illinois.

      As far as the Irish analogy, my family is both Scots-Irish and Irish Catholic. These divides were big 100 years ago, not today. This view of ethno-nationalism needs to be taken in the current political context, not by using analogies from 100 years ago. It would be same as saying that views which dominate German society today are the same that dominated in the 1930. That is just factually false.


  2. quote:
    “do, then Democrats need to ask themselves if they even want to win back these voters. I believe the easy answer is no.”

    I disagree. every voter can be persuaded.


    1. Yes, win back ethno-nationalist voters, not white voters in general. And no, we shouldn’t. And political science research already shows that not every voter can be persuaded. In fact, the exact opposite is true.


  3. The history and spirit of the great patriots founding this great country has no close parallel whatsoever to any other political subdivision, country, or entity anywhere else in the world.

    Part of her evolution will be a revisiting to those revolutionary times where individual strengths working together to secure and maintain a hard fought freedom is necessary to weed out those second-handers who would otherwise suck out the lifeblood of their supporting organism.

    The voters have spoken,,hat time is now, and like a wildfire that releases seedlings, this movement will serve the freedom loving American Republic well. Godspeed Mr. Trump!


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