In the USA, the traditional rivalry between democrats and republicans seems to have reached a new and intense phase in which we hear repeated accusations that party interests are being put before the national interest. President Donald Trump is so obsessed with avoiding charges of collusion that the real threat of Russian interference in elections is being ignored. At the same time, in the UK, Theresa May faces the same accusation of putting party interests first for making a desperate bid to retain power through a deal with the highly partisan Northern Ireland DUP. In the past, it was always supposed that however strong party allegiances might be, in a national emergency all politicians would come together and act in the national interest. That is no longer the case, and one must wonder what has brought this about.
Nations on both sides of the Atlantic are more divided than ever before. The root cause is accelerating inequality. Over recent years in which the take home pay of the majority of workers has stagnated, the owners and directors of banks and big businesses have managed to maintain rapid growth in their salaries, bonuses and dividends. Bernie Sanders in the USA and Jeremy Corbyn in the UK have long been warning that the power of the rich to influence the political process has never been greater. Through control of the media, political donations and other more subtle manipulations, they have persuaded the masses to vote for policies that perpetuate and enhance their economic power. The rich have long abandoned any pretence of acting in the national interest and now they have provoked a similar reaction on the part of the less affluent.
For decades past, big businesses have moved their production operations to where labour is cheapest, registered their companies where regulations are slackest and hidden their profits where taxes are lowest. National interest has seldom entered into their calculations. As a result, an international alliance of oligarchs now manipulates the global economy in their own interest. Wealth inequality is greater than ever before and the global economic crisis has become more important in most people’s minds than national rivalries. There are signs that in the UK, Jeremy Corbyn is succeeding in attracting mass support and might be elected to oppose the oligarchs and restore the Welfare State. But an effort in one country will achieve nothing because the birds will fly to where the grass is greener. Global problems require global solutions; the quest for social justice supervenes national interest.