Everyone is discussing Matthew Continnetti of the FreeBeacon’s piece on nationalism and for good reason as it at least captures, with quite a bit of whitewashing, much of the more highbrow justifications for Trumpism.
I return again and again to Hillel the Elder’s famous statement: “If I am not for myself, who will be? But if I am only for myself, who am I?”
I am not sure the problem with America is that we are just too darn selfless. I understand that the Bush era neoconservatism now strikes Americans as too utopian and not meeting the cost-benefit analysis of an America First paradigm. “What do you mean we’re supposed to spend money and die for Arabs, of all people?” The Obama era followed up with the Left’s version of a selfless America- denying we are anything special in the world and catering to even our worst enemy’s demands while holding our allies to exacting standards.
But this new American Nationalism is an overcorrection. We now have KRO (Krikorian Review Online) advocating for reducing H-1B visas because they somehow interfere with the poor working man’s right to a job. And the problem with using Trump as an avatar for American Nationalism is that he caters to Russia while advocating mercantilistic policies like “Take their oil and steal China’s jobs back!” He’s a walking contradiction on all issues.
Mainly this nationalism is, and I have seen this on the Right and Left on a more local level, “Get on board with the Tribe and don’t think too deeply about it.” It leads logically to things like this. After all, foreign peoples are an existential threat to us economically and as an identity. The Trumpist version of Nationalism also has no other ideals underpinning it; some see it as an economic revanchism but others as more of an ethnic/cultural one. Either one is poison.
There is a large chasm between patriotism and nationalism. Americans can be for ourselves to a degree. But often this is translated to “And we’re the only ones who matter.” It’s something of a Motte-Bailey defense. “We’re just saying we need to consider our interests…and also take their oil and cut off all trade and immigration.” It means allowing Syrian kids to die from barrel bombs and chlorine gas without so much as a rhetorical flourish from the current President or State Department. It means viewing trade as a zero sum game despite us becoming the richest country in history due largely to international trade. And it means reducing the idea of America to those who just happened to have already slipped past the drawbridge at some point in history.
We know where this road leads and one would think conservatives, of all people, would be more mindful of that rather than paving it with intellectual rationalization.
I retun to this idea as well: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” And America has been given an unimaginable inheritance. It is expected that we do more than cater to our own narrow self-interests. And by doing that, we will truly be a great nation.