Former President Bill Clinton said Thursday that growing nationalist movements across the world are interconnected and threaten “taking us to the edge of our destruction.”
“People who claim to want the nation-state are actually trying to have a pan-national movement to institutionalize separatism and division within borders all over the world,” Clinton said at the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., according to Politico.
“It’s like we’re all having an identity crisis at once–and it is an inevitable consequence of the economic and social changes that have occurred at an increasingly rapid pace,” added the former president, who was giving the keynote speech at an event honoring the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.
The speech was Clinton’s first major public appearance since his wife lost the 2016 presidential election in November, Politico noted. Clinton did not mention President Donald Trump during his remarks but appeared to be alluding to him and populist movements across Europe.
Clinton warned that resurgent nationalism around the world creates an “us versus them” situation that pits people against each other. He gave examples of this dynamic taking over politics in the United States, Europe, and the Philippines.
“And 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?” Clinton asked.
“The whole history of humankind is basically the definition of who is us and who is them, and the question of whether we should all live under the same set of rules,” said Clinton, who warned that human beings are “programmed biologically, instinctively, to prefer win-lose situations, us versus them.”
“We have to find a way to bring simple, personal decency and trust back to our politics,” he said.
The former president added that often people “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.”
Clinton held up Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995 while trying to negotiate a peace deal with Palestinians, as a model for political leaders to emulate today. Clinton worked closely with Rabin when he was in the White House, and the two were friends.
Rabin “was smart, he was careful, he understood the insecurities which roil through every society at every time—and instead of being paralyzed by them or trying to take advantage of them, he tried to take account and bring them along,” Clinton said.
Clinton argued that leaders and populations need to resist the pull of nationalism and find ways to work 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 our destruction,” he said.