The normal standard operating procedure adopted by political parties in their communications with the population at large is as follows:

If in opposition, convince a majority that things are either much worse than they should be, or much better than could reasonably be expected in current circumstances, if in government. Then, after the election, a stasis sets in. The hope that people were given at the last election is either held in abeyance until the next one, when change will again be forthcoming, or is in the process of being secretly realised. The people, at any given point of an electoral cycle, are therefore continually held hostage to the incumbent's decaying vision while waiting for a new one to be cooked up by the other guys. The whole process has a rolling and timeless dynamic.

In the case of nationalist parties, however, it's not that simple.

For them, the obvious solution to most, if not all, current problems is to reassert the rights of a definable section of a larger population with the goal of creating their own state. Here the composition of a vision with which a majority of the 'nation' can be comfortable is more complicated. To be convincing, the narrative must stretch back into the past, in order to prove that the 'nation' has historical validity, and then into the future to show that destiny will break the chains of an imprisonment that was always intended to be temporary. The liberated construct can indeed 'Be the nation again' and should, if possible, become once more 'great'.

To reinforce this narrative, the anticipated greatness of this conceptual 'past-continuous' must be set against the unremitting awfulness of the present 'colonised' reality. Everything done by and in the name of the dominating power must be shown to be not only bad but inimical to the interests of the smaller nation. This is the genesis of grievance, the moment when the question is asked, 'What have the Romans ever done for us?', aided by an ongoing socio-economic crisis to boost the popular sense of fear and anger.

The dynamic of this particular political narrative is finely balanced. The most successful nationalist parties offer a story, at least in the short-term, of that perfect relationship between civilised past and interrupted present followed by redemption and restoration. Mussolini's fascists founded their story very successfully on the glories of the Roman empire. Donald Trump has the legend of the American dream on which to base his re-introduction of enterprise-focused American exceptionalism.

Adolf Hitler masterfully offered the Germans a fabulous vision of the future, in contrast to the post-1919 miseries suffered by the 'defeated' nation, but he struggled to construct a credibly glorious history because before 1871 there was no German nation of which to speak. Hence his expropriation of Wagner's legendary music and the creation of his own vast political theatre. I like to think of the Nuremburg rallies as the national socialist 'Aida' with costumes by Hugo Boss.

Franco was a different case. Being almost entirely committed to returning Spain to its Catholic past he seemed to care very little about a vision for the future. After he won the civil war Franco more or less 'shut up shop and went home', to paraphrase Trotsky, concerned mostly with suppressing opposition and neutering potential trouble-makers on his own side, most notably the Falange. Franco's vision for Spain after the war had nothing to do with either Hitler or Stalin and he generally kept Spain out of the cold war with the country only joining NATO in 1982, seven years after his death.

The politics of grievance are necessarily unremittingly negative, of course they are. The whole point is to increase the general level of dissatisfaction and anger to the point where political action can be envisioned by a large number of citizens of the revived 'nation'. The quickest way to advance grievance is to apportion blame to a third party for everything that is considered wrong, be it the dominant state or an easily identifiable minority within the larger population. Looking around today we can see a number of convenient suspects available to fuel nationalist angst.

In the Celtic parts of the British Isles it's England and Westminster. In England it's Brussels in particular and the EU in general. In France, Holland and Scandinavia it's Muslims and foreigners from Africa and the Middle East. In Catalunya and the Spanish Basque country it's Madrid and the Spanish state. In Donald Trump's America, Latin America heads the bill with pretty much everyone else that can be found to stoke the paranoia. In Sri Lanka it's the Hindus or the Buddhists, depending on whether you are a Hindu or a Buddhist, and so on and so forth.

Where a nationalist party finds itself in the position of having to focus almost entirely on the grievance side of their political communication strategy over an extended period, perhaps even hundreds of years, we see the emergence of a structural problem. The party leadership, members and supporters simply find it difficult to build a clear vision for the future when the opportunity presents itself. This is particularly true when considering the economic redevelopment of a prospective reconstituted state.

Thus in France Marine Le Pen's economic vision stretches no further than 'being more French', in Celtic Britain,, including Ireland, the people are offered a 'wait and see' approach much like the Basques and the Catalans. At least Donald Trump campaigned on the repatriation of jobs and re-negotiating the trade deals that had seen the creation of the fly-over states from which most of his support emanates.

What has the absence of a vision for the future to do with the politics of grievance? When you complain all the time, or when you blame someone else for everything that you think has gone and is going wrong, then you give that person enormous power over you. Worse than that, when you devolve responsibility to someone else by blaming them for everything then it becomes a real challenge to take it back. The longer this goes on, the harder it becomes to take responsibility for creating a better future and taking responsibility is fundamentally what nationalism is all about. If a culture of default grievance is allowed to take hold then the movement loses momentum and effectively dies, quicker than its members realise.

Without the capacity to take responsibility, the boldness to set out a future vision, a nationalist party or movement is left with no end game. The deal with the majority of the people who want stable, secure lives for their families cannot be sealed. Grievance is an important element of nationalist political communication when dealing with the present. It goes hand-in-hand with a useable (simplified and manipulated) narrative of the past, but it can never be enough to succeed without a credible and realistic presentation of the future.

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