At a raucous campaign rally in Houston, President Trump laid his ideological cards on the table for all to see. If the Democrats take the House and/or the Senate, he told the crowd, they’ll carry out the agenda of “corrupt, power-hungry globalists.”
“You know what a globalist is? A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what, we can’t have that.”
The Davos crowd is one of Trump’s favorite targets, right up there with the media; and the crowd, now clear on the meaning of globalist, booed loudly. But Trump wasn’t done educating them:
You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, ‘Really, we’re not supposed to use that word?’ You know what I am? I’m a nationalist. . . . Use that word.
The crowd broke into chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!”
Trump has invoked nationalism before, but not in such a dramatic fashion. This appeared to be a spontaneous ad-libbed explanation of his essential political philosophy, for the first time presented in a logical sequence. Noting the brazen bias of the media—the “enemy of the people”—he referred to a story run by the major outlets claiming Trump is the most unpopular American President among world leaders. But of course I am, he told the crowd, laughing. That’s because their free ride is over and they now have to pay up. We defend them, we hollow out our own industries in deference to the prosperity of our “allies”—and what do we get in return? A swift kick!
The crowd is following this line of reasoning quite closely, booing when the ingratitude of our feckless “friends” abroad is denounced, and cheering as Trump declares, “It’s a good thing to be hated by these people.” It brought to mind FDR’s famous response to the “economic royalist” opponents of his policies: “I revel in their hatred.”
The crowd loved it because they understood it—and instinctively sympathized. After all, what’s wrong with putting America first?
The media and the political class hated it because they understood it—and were instinctively horrified. America first? Nationalism? Why, that smacks of “fascism,” they aver, a view that is redolent of the political opinions of the Communist Party, circa 1939.
Let’s dispense with this nonsense about nationalism being a “far-right” phenomenon. Every politician and ideological tendency is “nationalist” in the sense that it recognizes the legitimacy and authority of some type of state. The only antinationalists are anarchists. (And yet there is such a thing as a “national anarchist.”)
The idea that the nation is synonymous with the state apparatus that has grown up around it is simply an assumption made by modern liberals. There is nothing necessarily authoritarian or statist about nationalism, which is merely a sentiment—and often a noble one—honoring our sense of place.
Bill Kristol tweeted in response to Trump a quotation from George Orwell’s “Notes on Nationalism”:
“By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’”
This is typical neoconnish doublespeak: Orwell was clearly discussing European nationalism, several forms of which had metastasized into ideological killing machines. Yet this has nothing to do with American nationalism. One would think that an American “exceptionalist” wouldn’t have to be told that.
And of course the neocons have their own favorite nationalists—namely, Abe Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. What Kristol & Co. object to isn’t nationalism per se, but a nonaggressive nationalism that explicitly rejects imperialism, nation-building, democracy-promotion, and other forms of international do-goodism.
Historians will look back on Trump’s speech as the defining moment of his victorious brand of populism, the time and place where the gauntlet was thrown down and a new banner raised. To name something—a person, an idea, an age—is to imbue it with at least some persuasive power. Before this moment, when commentators had deigned to recognize at least a semi-coherent worldview, they merely described it as “isolationist”—a smear word.
As that stalwart of the Old Right, the editor and writer Garet Garrett, put it in 1943,
[T]he word in place of isolationism that would make sense is nationalism. Why is the right word avoided?
The explanation must be that the wrong one, for what it is intended to do, is the perfect political word. Since isolationism cannot be defined, those who attack it are not obliged to define themselves. What are they? Anti-isolationists? But if you cannot say what isolationism is, neither can you say what anti-isolationism is, whereas nationalism, being definite, has a positive antithesis. One who attacks nationalism is an internationalist.
The use of the obscurity created by the false word is to conceal something. The thing to be concealed is the identity of what is speaking. Internationalism is speaking.
It has a right to speak, as itself and for itself; but that right entails a moral obligation to say what it means and to use true words.
As a series of “caravans” of illegal aliens from all parts of South and Central America converge on our borders, let the internationalists proclaim their opposition to the cruel nationalism of Trump and say “Welcome! Come one, come all!”
Nationalism puts “America first” in that one of the few legitimate functions of government is the physical protection of its citizens on its own shores. A nationalist foreign policy, far from being aggressive, would assiduously avoid foreign wars, which is one of the reasons Trump got elected. The “liberal international order”? That’s just a fancy phrase for picking old Uncle Sam’s pockets.
The anti-Trump “Resistance” is having a meltdown over Trump’s embrace of the nationalist brand, so let them embrace its opposite: internationalism—i.e., open borders, perpetual war for perpetual “peace,” and the downgrading of citizenship to an irrelevancy. Given the choice between that and Trumpian nationalism, I think I know which side Americans will choose.