The U.S. media are stoking the coalfires of populist nationalism with their breathless coverage of President Trump’s private and undoubtedly unwise comment that Haiti is a “sh-thole country.” The President denies using that specific language, but owns up to the substance of the comment.

The New York Times has declared that Trump’s reported comment is proof he’s a racist (as if more were needed), since he is said to have contrasted the undesirability of immigrants from Haiti with the desirability of immigrants from Norway. Yet it seems fairly obvious that the Times and others who are echoing the Trump-is-racist line are deliberately misrepresenting the situation (a task made easy by Trump running his mouth) in order to score anti-Trump social-justice points among those who do not need convincing.  They are also reminding Republicans of the “sh-tstorm” they can expect from the 24/7 coverage that awaits, should Republicans insist on anything other than a “clean DACA bill.”

Trump’s immigration stance has always been economic.  At his core, the President is a liberal, insofar as that term means anything anymore.  When he was appearing on Howard Stern’s show, and making money for NBC’s The Apprentice and guesting on NBC’s Days of Our Lives (which is why there was an Access Hollywood tape to begin with), everyone understood this.  Ideologues of Trumpism or Bannonism—which, as we are now seeing, never really existed—need not be mystified as to just how Ivanka Trump could have turned out to be such a liberal herself.  There is no mystery here.  Liberalism is the default position of all powerful Americans, including the Bushes, who support “same-sex marriage.”  Some are just a little further to the right than others on the left-right spectrum of liberal America.  Every one of them believes that, unlike all other countries, America is an Idea.  They squabble over what exactly the Idea is, moving further left with each passing year, which is called “progress” and taught to America’s schoolchildren as such.

However coarsely put, Trump’s ideas about immigration reflect the fact that our current arrangement—where no argument against inviting future state-welfare recipients to the U.S. can be made without garnering accusations of racism—is unsustainable.  It doesn’t take an Edmund Burke to recognize that there are a finite number of low-wage jobs in the U.S., and that filling them with illegal aliens (or paying to send the “Dreamers” to college) unbalancees the scales for native-born citizens, whatever race they are.  This is the message that Trump’s “Deplorables” responded to in November 2016.

So Trump refers to Haiti as a “sh-thole country” in that light, and Anderson Cooper, in turn, chokes back tears while describing the courage and bravery of Haitians, thus condemning Trump and his approach to immigration.  What logic is this?  Can brave and courageous people with dignity and value live in a “sh-thole”?  Well.  I happen to live in a city that the national media have gleefully described as a sh-thole for decades now.  On every Sh-t List they can come up with, Rockford, Illinois, has a spot.

Here’s an example of a list Rockford regularly makes, from Forbes.

Rockford’s also included in this “Southern swath” of misery: “Worst Cities in America to Live Cut a Swath Across the South”

“She Knows” that Rockford is crappy: “10 Worst U.S. cities for raising a family”

Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert joined in the fun of crapping on Rockford when Madison politicians hid out here during the collective bargaining war with Gov. Walker: “Madison’s ‘miserable’ neighbor: A trip back to Rockford”

ABC News has recognized that Rockford belongs on the Sh-t List of cities containing the most violent neighborhoods: “Dangerous Neighborhoods: 25 Worst Focus on Single-Family Areas, Not Inner-Cities”

MSN declares that Rockford is the worst city in Illinois: “Worst cities to live in every state”

USA Today also recognizes Rockford: “The most dangerous cities in America”

Crime, violence, misery, “sh-thole”: “Crime in America 2017: Top 10 Most Dangerous Cities Under 200,000”

…especially for “Black Americans,” where Rockford is No. 2 on the national Sh-t List: “‘Worst Cities for Black Americans’ shames Midwest”

We could go on.  Rockford, Illinois, has a fairly familiar story of economic decline. Previously, folks from jobless, impoverished areas of America moved here to get good-paying jobs and enjoy a decent standard of living.  The centralization of power in Washington, bad economic policies, bad trade deals, globalism—these things helped to gut Rockford economically, and the Great Society helped to establish a permanent underclass here as elsewhere with barely any incentive to leave the welfare rolls.  Drive through vast areas of Rockford after dark, passing one minority neighborhood after another, and you risk your life.  Residents in these areas live with illegitimacy, murder, drugs, armed robbery, decrepit rental houses and projects—and little hope.

Yet many Rockfordians choose to stay and fight to make the place where they were born and raised, where their families live and are buried, better.  Some Rockfordians have even been leaders among Christians who have done both mission work and charity work in Haiti. Why?  Christian charity is the motive force, to be sure, but what makes Haitians objects of compassion is the fact that Haiti is a place of misery.  It is not “racist” to admit this.  Nor is it “racist” to recognize that our elite class, which regularly browbeats American citizens with accusations of bigotry, is not being charitable by virtue signaling about foreign people who live in decrepit places and want to move and remain here.  Especially when “here” means the very places that those same elites refer to as American “sh-tholes,” all the while pursuing policies that further their ruin.  Charity requires the freedom to give; the American Welfare State, which subsidizes poverty and moral decrepitude, relies not on charity but on coercion.  Feeling badly for people in bad situations the world over is not charity.

John Lukacs has written brilliantly on the rise of modern nationalisms, underscoring that, unlike patriotism, nationalism fosters a kind of us-vs.-them identitarianism.  (Thus, economic nationalism is a misleading term, as opposed to economic patriotism, which is more accurate and better describes what those who call themselves economic nationalists desire.)  America’s elites seem hellbent on turning normal Americans into nationalists, if not racialist identitarians, who always view themselves in an adversarial relationship with the Other.  And the national news and entertainment industries push this binary incessantly, unrelentingly.  Yet contrary to this ideological narrative, it is not unreasonable for normal Americans, people of diverse backgrounds and regions in this vast continental empire of 50 states, to think that their federal government should protect their interests.  It is not evil for normal Americans to think that their communities need no foreign immigrants at all, or to desire to preserve their way of life for their children rather than see their towns become little New York Cities or Londonistans.  It is not wrong for normal Americans to prefer that the federal government they elect and are forced to underwrite pay attention to the “sh-tholes” where they, the taxpayers, live.

It remains the task of authentic conservatives, however, to provide a vision for the way out of this us-vs.-them, left-vs.-right binary.  We need to stop insisting that America is something other than a normal country like every other country in the history of the world, with borders and a defined citizenry that has its own unique interests.  Shorn of hubristic notions of American exceptionalism and an American “mission” in the world, we might begin to devolve the massive federal power and centralized economy that make the welfare state possible and turn hearts away from the local—family, neighborhood, church, community—where charity always begins but seldom ends.