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Bill Clinton warns that nationalism is ‘taking us to the edge of our destruction’
Former U.S. President Bill Clinton warned against the dangers of pan-nationalism in an event at the Brookings Institution. Photo by Steve Pope/Getty Images)

Bill Clinton warns that nationalism is ‘taking us to the edge of our destruction’

Former President Bill Clinton appeared to refer to the resurgent nationalism of the current president when he told an audience that division is "taking us to the edge of our destruction." He made the comments in a keynote address at the Brookings Institution Friday.

In the first public outing for the president since his wife Hillary Clinton lost the presidential election, the former president warned against the divisiveness of current nationalist movements around the world.

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. 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.

The event was in honor of the late Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was remembered by Clinton as exemplifying the spirit of inclusion and problem-solving, the opposite of the characteristics he described in nationalist movements.

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 juxtaposed Rabin's example against our natural tendencies, which he linked to nationalism: “we are programmed biologically, instinctively, to prefer win-lose situations, us versus them.”

“This is a very old story," he explained. "It’s as old as the Holy Land, and much older. Ever since the first people stood up on the East African savanna, ever since the first families and clans, ever since people encountered the other. It is a very old story. 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?”

Rabin’s tough-minded approach to finding ways to work and live together is what’s needed, Clinton said. “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.”

Eric Bolling defended Trump on "The Five" from Clinton's criticism, saying that he didn't run advocating ethnic cleansing of previous nationalist movements, like Nazism, but on economic nationalism.

The dire warning from Clinton about nationalism is in strict contrast with the "Make America Great Again" message of President Trump and some of his more ideological supporters. While many are finding it difficult to pigeon-hole Trump in the classical differentiations of politics, some point to the succoring of the "alt-right" movement by Steve Bannon, who is now one of Trump's top advisors.

While Hillary Clinton also sounded the warning against nationalism during her campaign, recently she placed the blame on interference from the Russians and from FBI Director Comey for her electoral loss, despite winning the popular vote.

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