Where to Call Home: A Glimpse into the Nationalistic Impulse During the Covid-19 Crisis
In a matter of days, as our living community shrank from twelve people to four, flights from Amsterdam reached four different continents . For me, it was a sad, abrupt, and surreal goodbye. Despite messages everywhere to stay home, to stay put where you are, for those of us not quite home, the messages were different. Living in international student housing, I witnessed how national governments quickly warned citizens living abroad to return home now or accept the prospect of being stuck indefinitely. So, despite Covid-19 clearly being a global problem and one which demands less travel and movement of people, many packed their bags quickly to be home in times of crisis. Perhaps there is something more to this irony.
While seeking familiarity, family, and comfort in these times is certainly natural, my experience in international student living seems a window into our world that has globalized many of our interactions, but remains nationalistic in our response to crisis. There is a predominantly positive attitude towards spaces, in a university setting or elsewhere, where individuals from around the world are brought together to exchange ideas and cultural perspectives. But even as these spaces become more common in education, the arts, and certainly in business, we still lack a cohesive sense of a global public good. We all now witness that in a globalized economy, our health is a matter of collective well-being which does not care for national boundaries. If it seems obvious that this health crisis demands international cooperation, we must recognize how that spirit of cooperation has been immediately and gravely threatened in these moments of uncertainty and fear. The World Health Organization seems to exist explicitly to offer an infrastructure to this sort of global cooperation, and yet we see its legitimacy currently under attack. Here in the United States, rhetoric blaming China for this disease is on the rise, as are calls to become more nationally self-sufficient after the crisis wanes. Meanwhile in the European Union, leaders have warned that failure to agree on economic relief measures would threaten the very existence of the bloc. Is increasing nationalism what we should expect in the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic?
I ask this question without idealizing a notion of globalization, internationalism, or (especially) free trade. These massive and complex trends are all too often fetishized by prominent neoliberal voices as inarguable goals, in effect admonishing any dissent from the consensus economic ideologies. Instead, I’m searching for hope in some new sense of globalization and international cooperation which will center the basic needs of people wherever they are from or currently live. We see today not only that our health is a matter of global collective good, but we also see what are the true foundations of a decent and functioning society. We see the necessity of grocery, retail, and transportation workers alongside those health care professionals on the front lines-- that these masses are clearly more “productive” than corporate CEOs. We also feel deeply what is lost by the closure of spaces for artistic expression and the free exchange of ideas. Of course, these are not unique observations, but that is what makes them powerful. I hope the response to rising nationalisms amidst crisis may be a global call to center these common people and our basic collective needs in society. That this is more obvious now than ever gives hope that such a call could be brought into reality. While we strive for discipline in staying home for our collective well-being, let us stay connected and steadfast in these calls for a more sane and just society to emerge in the uncertainty that will follow.