Analysis

How Did the Term 'Globalist' Become an anti-Semitic Slur? Blame Bannon

White supremacists have used the term as a barely concealed dog-whistle for several years, but the problem comes when it’s used in the ‘globalist vs. nationalist’ economic debate

Outgoing chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, left, listening to President Donald Trump speaking in the White House, March 8, 2018.
\ KEVIN LAMARQUE/ REUTERS

The current tweetstorm triggered by conservative pundit Ann Coulter put a snarky spin on a simmering debate: Is “globalist” a legitimate description of a person with a set of views with which one can either agree or debate – or is it an anti-Semitic slur?

It’s a conversation that refuses to go away in the Donald Trump era. Once, it was a less charged discussion: Conservative protectionists and populists on both the left and right supported trade barriers and tariffs, and opposed multilateral trade deals, against views they termed “globalist” – those favoring economic policies that emphasize international cooperation, free trade and the lowering of barriers.

Coulter is an unabashed Trump-supporting, anti-immigration hyper-patriot who authors books with unsubtle titles like “Adios, America! The Left’s Plan to Turn Our Country into a Third World Hellhole.” Last week, she was reacting with disgust to the controversy regarding Trump referring to his outgoing top economic adviser, Gary Cohn, as a globalist.

“He may be a globalist but I still like him,” Trump said at Cohn’s final cabinet meeting last Thursday, adding, “He’s seriously a globalist. There’s no question.”

Those words echoed those of White House Budget Director Mick Mulvaney, who said of Cohn’s departure, “I never expected that the co-worker I would work closest, and best, with at the White House would be a ‘globalist.’” Meanwhile, a Fox News reporter asked White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders whether Cohn would be replaced with “another globalist.”

A HuffPost headline blared “This Anti-Semitic Term Was Casually Used At The White House 3 Times This Week” – referring, of course, to “globalist.”

Coulter responded by posting a string of tweets mocking the assumption that “globalist equals Jew,” in which she joked about celebrities and journalists being “half-globalist” and arguing that “Israel must be defended as last redoubt of the Globalists.”

It wasn’t only HuffPost. The use of the word became the focus of much discussion in the media.

CNN’s Don Lemon devoted a long segment of his broadcast last Thursday to it, explaining that the term “globalist” that “keeps popping up” carries an “ugly history.” It “sounds like a pretty mainstream term, a description of an economic and political ideology. But it’s more than that. It’s also become a dog-whistle to right-wing conspiracy theorists” used in the “darkest corner of the far right,” he explained.

Indeed, like the word “cosmopolitan,” the term “globalist” echoes the ideology of Adolf Hitler, who fomented against the Jews as “international elements that “conduct their business everywhere,” thus harming and undermining good people who are “bounded to their soil, to the Fatherland.”

Over the past two years, the disturbingly robust alt-right white nationalist movement online has used the term interchangeably with “Jewish” to promote the belief that Jews put greed and tribe ahead of country.

It has been a cornerstone of David Duke and Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories featuring George Soros and a fantastical Jewish conspiracy designed to destroy “white” or “Western” society by flooding it with third-world hordes – all the better to strengthen their control of banks, businesses and, of course, the media.

In the case of Duke, neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer and other openly anti-Semitic circles, “globalist” is used too blatantly to be described as a dog-whistle: the word “globalist” is used as the descriptive part in the phrase “globalist Jews.”

The common use of the term in the White House is the legacy of banished former Trump senior adviser Steve Bannon, who imported it from his alt-right platform Breitbart News. He reportedly used the word behind closed doors to slam Cohn and others in the White House like son-in-law Jared Kushner when their views clashed with Bannon’s populist “America First” agenda.

In dog-whistle form, the term is comparable to the triple parentheses used to flag Jewish names by anti-Semites. Breitbart even used emojis of globes to frame Cohn’s name in a headline.

For these reasons, many believe the word now has an expiration date.

Aryeh Tuchman, associate director of the ADL’s Center on Extremism, was quoted in multiple media outlets in recent days arguing that Trump’s use of the term “emboldened” white supremacists and anti-Semites. He told the Washington Post that things have reached a point where the word should be off-limits if the person is Jewish. “To use that word about a Jewish person is just really problematic. It’s a really unfortunate choice of words,” he said.

When controversial figures with a history of race-baiting like Coulter and Bannon (who recently told far-right fellow travelers in France: “Let them call you racist. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor”) defend the term, Tuchman’s argument that “globalist” as a term has been irreparably stained feels compelling.

But banishing the “globalist vs. nationalist” debate is impossible, no matter what one chooses to call it. In a 2017 TED Dialogue titled “Nationalism vs. Globalism: The New Political Divide,” Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari argued: “The old 20th-century political model of left versus right is now largely irrelevant. And the real divide today is between global and national. And you see it all over the world that this is the main struggle. We now have global ecology, we have a global economy, but we have national politics. And this doesn’t work together. It makes political systems ineffective, because they have no control over the forces that shape our life.”

It’s a real tension that fueled Brexit and led to the rise of Trump – who campaigned successfully with his “Make America Great Again” message of walling off the outside world and vowing to leave international agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership, NAFTA and the Paris climate accords.

In this context, the Fox News reporter’s “globalist” question to Huckabee Sanders regarding the ideological orientation of Cohn’s replacement can hardly be framed as having been racially charged.

Whether or not the new chief economic adviser is a so-called “globalist” will, after all, deeply influence Trump White House policies on international trade and affect the U.S. economy’s future. Whatever word is used to describe their beliefs hardly matters.