Looking back on the 2016 election, I supported Donald Trump mainly because I was persuaded by the argument that he was moving the Overton Window. The difference between nationalism and the liberal Right is based on how we perceive and value others in our communities and nation.
Here is how I think about it:
Libertarianism – Selfish individualist, materialist, typically a hedonist and an atheist. Does not believe in the common good. Very weak sense of identification with others in his community. Wants a minimal government and relationship with others. Happy to live and consume in Burger World.
Conservative Liberalism – A liberal individualist whose moral views are moderated by some outside force, usually Christianity, who is content to live his own life but has a stronger sense of community. Sees the country as an aggregate of rights-bearing individualists whose freedom is protected by the Constitution. In group determined by legal status. Romanticizes liberty.
Civic Nationalism – A liberal nationalist who is a collectivist who strongly identifies with his fellow citizens. Believes in the common good. Prioritizes citizens over foreigners. Sees the country as an “us” as opposed to “them.” In group determined by legal status, not race, religion, ethnicity, culture, etc.
Ethnonationalist – A blood and soil nationalist who is a collectivist who strongly identifies with other people in his community, tribe or nation based on ascriptive characteristics like race and ethnicity and organic ties like a shared culture, religion and history. Strongly believes in the common good and the interests of his group. Prioritizes his people over foreigners. Sees his people as an “us” as opposed to “them” and identifies the nation with “us.” Not necessarily hostile to other groups but puts his own group first. In group determined by organic ties, not legal status.
Now, I was under the impression for a while that Donald Trump and the MAGA movement represented civic nationalism, not conservative liberalism or libertarianism. This is not what we believe, but at least an argument could be made that it was a step in our direction and away from the liberal Right. Civic nationalism represented a greater awareness of an “us” on the American Right. This “us” had to be defended from foreign threats whether it was the Chinese, drugs or illegal aliens. The “Forgotten Man” would be forgotten no longer or so we were told at the inauguration.
The COVID-19 pandemic was the ultimate foreign threat. The virus was a threat to all American citizens regardless of race, sex or political ideology, but particularly the weak, the elderly and the poor. Defeating the virus required a president who was, oddly enough, the sort of civic nationalist that Trump had pretended to be who would defend the interests of the “Forgotten Man” even at the expense of the wealthy and who wasn’t hung up on inflated fears of “racism” and “xenophobia.” The man had literally run for president ostensibly to stick it to the globalists and close the borders. And yet, when the time finally came for Trump to remember the “Forgotten Man” who normally isn’t heard much from in the liberal Right it was the counsel of the private equity and hedge fund billionaires who wanted to “ride it out” to keep the stock market at record highs that was heeded. Even worse, this tremendous wave of suffering and death has been minimized and swept under rug to be forgotten.
It has been amazing to watch from my perspective. I don’t claim to be a civic nationalist or an American Nationalist. I’ve been highly alert to the threat since the beginning in January and so far my ethnic group has only been lightly affected. The virus has absolutely ravaged the Northeast though where over half the people who have died from it lived. It has killed 1 out of every 500 people in New York City. Aren’t those people American citizens though? Shouldn’t Trump and the MAGA movement who supposedly believe in civic nationalism have been up in arms about this historic wave of death? Plainly, they are not. Instead, they are up in arms about wearing masks and a lost grilling season.
Was any of this we were told by the Trump campaign ever real? Did the MAGA movement ever really care about their fellow citizens? I’ve been struck by the fact that they seem far less moved than they were after 9/11. This has been nothing like what happened after 9/11. It is like 50,000 Bruce Springsteens died from COVID-19 and American Nationalists yawned, shrugged it off and went to the beach. In fact, they are the 25% of the population who doesn’t give a shit!
As a nationalist movement, MAGA has failed by its own standards. When the country needed a greater sense of nationalism in a major crisis, they walked away from it.
Note: If American Nationalists don’t care about so many of their fellow citizens dying from the virus, do you think they care about something as abstract as the future of their ethnic group?