The molten core of right-wing nationalism is the furious denial of America’s unalterably multiracial, multicultural national character.
The Republican Party under Donald Trump has devolved into a populist cult of personality. But Mr. Trump won’t be president forever. Can the cult persist without its personality? Does Trumpist nationalism contain a kernel of coherent ideology that can outlast the Trump presidency?
At a recent conference in Washington, a group of conservatives did their level best to promote Trumpism without Trump (rebranded as “national conservatism”) as a cure for all that ails our frayed and faltering republic. But the exclusive Foggy Bottom confab served only to clarify that “national conservatism” is an abortive monstrosity, neither conservative nor national. Its animating principle is contempt for the actually existing United States of America, and the nation it proposes is not ours.
Bitter cultural and political division inevitably leads to calls for healing reconciliation under the banner of shared citizenship and national identity. After all, we’re all Americans, and our fortunes are bound together, like it or not.
Yet the question of who “we” are as “a people” is the central question on which we’re polarized. High-minded calls to reunite under the flag therefore tend to take a side and amount to little more than a demand for the other side’s unconditional surrender. “Agree with me, and then we won’t disagree” is more a threat than an argument.
The attackers — the nature-denying feminists, ungrateful blacks, babbling immigrants, ostentatiously wedded gays — bear full responsibility for any damage wrought by populist backlash, because they incited it by demanding and claiming a measure of equal freedom. But they aren’t entitled to it, because the conservative denizens of the fruited plain are entitled first to a country that feels like home to them. That’s what America is. So the blame for polarizing mutual animosity must always fall on those who fought for, or failed to prevent, the developments that made America into something else — a country “real Americans” find hard to recognize or love.
The practical implication of the nationalist’s entitled perspective is that unifying social reconciliation requires submission to a vision of national identity flatly incompatible with the existence and political equality of America’s urban multicultural majority. That’s a recipe for civil war, not social cohesion.
Yoram Hazony, author of “The Virtue of Nationalism” and impresario of the “national conservatism” conference, argued that America’s loss of social cohesion is because of secularization and egalitarian social change that began in the 1960s. “You throw out Christianity, you throw out the Torah, you throw out God,” Mr. Hazony warned, “and within two generations people can’t tell the difference between a man and a woman. They can’t tell the difference between a foreigner and a citizen. They can’t tell the difference between this side of the border and the other side of the border.”
“The only way to save this country, to bring it back to cohesion,” he added, “is going to be to restore those traditions.”
Mr. Hazony gave no hint as to how this might be peacefully done within the scope of normal liberal-democratic politics. “It’s not simple,” he eventually conceded. Mr. Hazony notably omitted to mention, much less to condemn, the atrocious cruelty of America’s existing nationalist regime. Indeed, roaring silence around our Trumpian reality was the conference’s most consistent and telling theme.
The incoherence of an American nationalism meant to “conserve” an imaginary past was not lost on everyone at the conference.Patrick Deneen, a political theorist at Notre Dame, pointed out that American nationalism has historically been a progressive project. The nationalism of Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson, he noted, arose as the United States began to establish itself as an imperial power of global reach. Building nations has always been about building armies, regimenting the population and centralizing political control.
Yuval Levin, the editor of National Affairs, similarly observed that nationalist projects meant to unite the diverse tribes and cultures of large territories generally involve a program of political mythmaking and the state-backed suppression of ancestral ethnic and community identities.
Mr. Levin suggested that a genuinely conservative nationalism, in the context of a vast national territory with an immense multiethnic population, would refrain from uprooting these traditions and communities and seek instead to preserve them in a vision of the nation as “the sum of various uneven, ancient, lovable elements,” because we are “prepared for love of country by a love of home.”
But what, today, do Americans call “home”? The next logical step would be to observe that the contemporary sum of rooted, lovable American elements includes the
- black culture of Compton, the
- Mexican culture of Albuquerque, the
- Indian culture of suburban Houston, the
- Chinese culture of San Francisco, the
- Orthodox Jewish culture of Brooklyn, the
- Cuban culture of Miami and the
- “woke” progressive culture of the college town archipelago, as well as the
- conservative culture of the white small town.
But Mr. Levin, a gifted rhetorician who knew his audience, did not hazard this step.
Barack Obama claimed resounding victory in two presidential elections on the strength of a genuinely conservative conception of pluralistic American identity that embraced and celebrated America as it exists. Yet this unifying vision, from the mouth of a black president, primed the ethnonationalist backlash that put Mr. Trump in the White House.
The molten core of right-wing nationalism is the furious denial of America’s unalterably multiracial, multicultural national character. This denialism is the crux of the new nationalism’s disloyal contempt for the United States of America. The struggle to make good on the founding promise of equal freedom is the dark but hopeful thread that runs through our national story and defines our national character. It’s a noble, inspiring story, but the conservative nationalist rejects it, because it casts Robert E. Lee, and the modern defenders of his monuments, as the bad guys — the obstacles we must overcome to make our nation more fully, more truly American.
To reject pluralism and liberalizing progress is to reject the United States of America as it is, to heap contempt upon American heroes who shed blood and tears fighting for the liberty and equality of their compatriots. The nationalist’s nostalgic whitewashed fantasy vision of American national identity cannot be restored, because it never existed. What they seek to impose is fundamentally hostile to a nation forged in the defining American struggle for equal freedom, and we become who we are as we struggle against them.
Whether couched in vulgarities or professorial prose, reactionary nationalism is seditious, anti-patriotic loathing of America hiding behind a flag — our flag. We won’t allow it, because we know how to build a nation. We know how the American story goes: We fight; we take it back.
Two men, sons of immigrants, rising to be the head of their own empires, powerful forces in their ethnic communities. Both dapper and mustachioed with commanding personalities. And both wielding a potent influence on the children who learned at their knees and followed them into the family businesses.
But here’s the difference: Big Tommy D’Alesandro Jr. taught little Nancy how to count. Fred Trump taught Donald, from the time he was a baby, that he didn’t have to count — or be accountable; Daddy’s money made him and buoyed him.
Fred, a dictatorial builder in Brooklyn and Queens from German stock, and Big Tommy, a charming Maryland congressman and mayor of Baltimore from Italian stock, are long gone. But their roles in shaping Donald and Nancy remain vivid, bleeding into our punishing, pressing national debate over immigration, a government shutdown and that inescapable and vexing Wall.
At this fraught moment when the pain of the shutdown is kicking in, President Trump and Speaker Pelosi offer very different visions — shaped by their parents — of what it means to be an American.
When Trump gave his Oval Office address, the framed photo of his dad was peering over his shoulder. In her House speaker’s office in the Capitol, Pelosi prominently displays a photo of herself at 7, holding the Bible as her father is sworn in as Baltimore mayor in 1947.
D’Alesandro was a loyal New Deal Democrat, just as Pelosi — the first daughter to follow her father into Congress — is a resolute liberal. She grew up in a house with portraits of F.D.R. and Truman.
Donald Trump spent most of his life as a political opportunist, learning from his dad that real estate developers must lubricate both sides of the aisle. Trump was once friendly with Pelosi, sending her a note in 2007 when she won the speaker job the first time — with a boost from his $20,000 donation to the party — calling her “the best.” (Unlike with “Cryin’ Chuck,” Trump has not gone for the jugular with a nasty nickname for Pelosi.)
In her memoir, Pelosi recalled that her Catholic parents “raised me to be holy.” She told me, “My mother and my father instilled in us, public service is a noble calling” and “never measure a person by how much money they had.”
“Hate speech” is extraordinarily vague and subjective. Libel and slander are not... Most appallingly, he has insisted that these grieving families were faking their pain: “I’ve looked at it and undoubtedly there’s a cover-up, there’s actors, they’re manipulating, they’ve been caught lying and they were preplanning before it and rolled out with it.”.. Rather than applying objective standards that resonate with American law and American traditions of respect for free speech and the marketplace of ideas, the companies applied subjective standards that are subject to considerable abuse. Apple said it “does not tolerate hate speech.” Facebook accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “glorifying violence” or using “dehumanizing language to describe people who are transgender, Muslims and immigrants.” YouTube accused Mr. Jones of violating policies against “hate speech and harassment.”.. In the name of stopping hate speech, university mobs have turned their ire not just against alt-right figures like Milo Yiannopoulos and Richard Spencer, but also against the most mainstream of conservative voices, like Ben Shapiro and Heather Mac Donald.Dissenting progressives aren’t spared, either. Just ask Evergreen State College’s Bret Weinstein, who was hounded out of a job after refusing to participate in a “day of absence” protest in which white students and faculty members were supposed to leave campus for the day to give students and faculty members of color exclusive access to the college... The far better option would be to prohibit libel or slander on their platforms... Unlike “hate speech,” libel and slander have legal meanings. There is a long history of using libel and slander laws to protect especially private figures from false claims. It’s properly more difficult to use those laws to punish allegations directed at public figures, but even then there are limits on intentionally false factual claims.
The moment also calls for a renewed focus on the so-called Northern Triangle of Central America — the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, which together represent the overwhelming source of migrants crossing our southern border. Unless we address the root causes driving migration from this region, any solutions focused solely on border protection and immigration enforcement will be insufficient.
.. It soon became evident that migration from Central America could not be resolved merely by stronger enforcement at the U.S. border, let alone by building a wall. Instead, we needed to tackle the drivers of migration: crime, violence, corruption and lack of opportunity. We knew the cost of investing in a secure and prosperous Central America was modest compared with the cost of allowing violence and poverty to fester.