July 30, 2019 | Reading Time: < 1 minute

Too cheeky?

I sparked a teeny-tiny debate Monday. The subject of yesterday’s Editorial Board was nationalism. I made the case that the president, contrary to popular opinion, actually hates nationalism. Nationalism, I said, is about equality. Donald Trump hates equality. Ergo, he hates nationalism. I was being a bit cheeky. Too cheeky? The president is of course…

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I sparked a teeny-tiny debate Monday. The subject of yesterday’s Editorial Board was nationalism. I made the case that the president, contrary to popular opinion, actually hates nationalism.

Nationalism, I said, is about equality. Donald Trump hates equality. Ergo, he hates nationalism.

I was being a bit cheeky. Too cheeky?

The president is of course nationalist in the fascist sense of the word. Everyone who has said so is correct in saying that that kind of nationalism is evil—even when it does not result in genocide.

My point was to revive, at least among liberals, awareness that there’s more than one kind of nationalism, and that our country has a long and deep nationalist tradition, good and bad.

Another point, though unstated, is that we need to meet Trump’s nationalism head-on with an equal and opposite political idea, and I don’t think Scandinavian social democracy qualifies, as some suggest.

The Civil War was battle of opposing nationalisms. One prevailed but the other never died. And here we are. Trump is indeed a nationalist. But he also hates nationalism. There’s a reason for that.

My friend David Perry argued that there’s no good nationalism. Read that here.

I said there is a good kind. And we need it. Read that here.

Cheers! —JS

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition open and available to all. Find him @johnastoehr.

7 Comments

  1. AnneO on July 30, 2021 at 7:51 am

    I’ve read all the pieces and it is still not clear to me what the “good” kind of nationalism is.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:51 am

      Hi Anne, I quoted Liah Greenfeld’s definition of nationalism. Short answer: think Lincoln.

      • AnneO on July 30, 2021 at 7:51 am

        I am not the writer that you are. On a gut level I understand what you are saying but am seeking something concise (you’ve already managed the bold) that we can rally around to defeat Trump.

  2. Bennett on July 30, 2021 at 7:51 am

    The problem is that nationalism is the dog whistle version of nativism. David argues that Trump calls himself a “nationalist” and that therefore nationalism equates Trump’s policy approach. But what if Trump started calling himself a “populist,” another highly vexed term that gets good or bad press depending on who is doing the labeling. John, your challenge is that nationalism has been so compromised a term–like socialist–by history that it’s near impossible to redefine it. But such things can be done. Case in point: liberal, which used to designate something much closer to traditional, capitalist-oriented conservatism (just look at the party names in the former Commonwealth nations) than it did by the 1980s and 1990s when Republicans turned it into a term of disapprobation. Since then, a growing number of Democrats have embraced progressive, another term freighted with culture weight by its origins in the early 20th century American reform era.

    • John Stoehr on July 30, 2021 at 7:51 am

      I think my real problem is that I’m trying to provoke and might not be provoking in the ways I had hoped for. I took a risk.

      • realsaramerica on July 30, 2021 at 7:51 am

        I was listening to this on NPR on the way back from PT, and once the audio is available, Gideon Rachman’s analysis of nationalism (near the end of the show) is useful. I also agree with what he said about the furor about calling the detention centers on the border concentration camps. https://www.wbur.org/hereandnow/2019/07/30/trump-boris-1930s-history-politics

  3. Ed Kako on July 30, 2021 at 7:51 am

    If you’re concerned that your framing is a misfire, I disagree. Stable, functional, liberal democracies need a good story to hang together. Even in the most pejorative sense of the word, I Trump doesn’t qualify as a nationalist.

    Being a nationalist means acting in ways that you believe benefit the nation as a whole. Those policies can be inclusive and productive (Lincoln, FDR) or exclusive and destructive (Hitler, Stalin). Trump cares about one and only one thing: enriching and protecting himself and his family. The words he utters to his supporters are just tools to help him achieve those hyper-parochial, selfish ends.

    I’ll offer a frame that’s maybe even more provocative: As evil as he was, Hitler at least cared that Germany as a nation continued to exist. If Trump could sell the United States off for parts and get away with it, he would. He just doesn’t care.

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