THE TRUMP PHENOMENOM
is not his alone, nor did it begin with him. Nationalism was used by Nazi Germany as a springboard to power, as did nations before this. After its defeat, the word became enmity to European nations, replaced by democracy and capitalism. Only those seeking quick political death dared to whisper the word in public. With the lingering threat of Russia, along with the lure of economic improvements, it wasn’t difficult to hold this new movement together. But the question was, is, did the Europeans fully move away from nationalism and fully embrace the new model? I think not. And perhaps the formation of the European Union, along with its common currency, seeded a fertile field for rebellion. So with the end of the Cold War, the arrival of imported terrorism, and a cycle of economic issues, came BREXIT, the rise of populism, a less threatening word for nationalism, to show the first signs of the coming harvest as Europeans began to openly ask, “Is anti-nationalism too steep a price?”
The story in America, while differing in history, has many similarities. Nationalism is loosely as “a strong belief that the interests of a particular nation-state are of primary importance, and that a people who share a common language, history, and culture should constitute an independent nation, free of foreign domination.” Nationalism was the most successful political force of the early 19th century. It brought the nation together through the exaltation of feeling and identity. America began to have its own identity in the world now that it has been a nation for over a century. Its own economy took off when the market revolution began. Already, the United States had already won several wars. At this point, the nations people were proud to live in the U.S. and thus nationalism began to grow further. Nationalism helped many industries grow such as railroads and roads to connect and unify our country. Now that Americans were connected better by these systems they began to view themselves as a whole who had one thing in common, they lived in America.
Wars, immigration, economic vagaries muted this nationalistic emotion over the next centuries, but like out European neighbors the feeling was only dormant, waiting for the call to awake. In 2016 the Huffington Post issued an article: The American Nationalism Problem
- “America has a nationalism problem. The U.S. has been described as the melting pot, a nation of immigrants and the Land of Opportunity. Indeed, the story we tell ourselves is that the American identity is rooted not in place, but in the acceptance of a common set of ideals, irrespective of race, religion or ethnicity. The politics of the last decade, however, have strained the notion of e pluribus unum, revealing among whites three definitions of the American nation that are exclusive rather than inclusive.
The highest rate of “American” identity is among young rural whites with limited education. Recent surveys find that whites with an “unhyphenated” identity are increasingly voting very conservative and perceive a cultural threat from foreign influences. They also call themselves ethnic “Americans” for patriotic reasons. They favor a stronger national defense. And, they are more likely to think that an individual’s life chances are tied to their racial identity (what Michael Dawson called “linked fate“).
Historic data from the General Social Survey shows that Unhyphenated Americans are no more racially conservative than other Americans. The exception is that they are consistently less likely to vote for a hypothetical black candidate for president, or, since 2008, an actual one. They are also increasingly less likely to vote for Democrats in general.
Then there are the Christian Nationalists. The most visible religious tension in American politics is between the Establishment Clause and the long tradition of Protestant ownership of the moral nation. Christian Nationalists have the highest agreement with four statements about America: that is “holds a special place in God’s plan;” that “God has chosen [America] to lead the world;” that the United States “was founded as a Christian nation;” and “it is important to preserve the nation’s religious heritage.” According to a poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute in June of this year, 62% of Americans either completely agree or mostly agree that “God has granted America a special role in human history.” 52% said “believing in God” and 33% percent said “being a Christian” was very important for “being truly American.” Similar distributions have been found in other surveys of the public since 2010. They are also heavily invested in Biblical literalism. Agreement with these statements is strongly correlated with anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant sentiment among white Americans. Politics and the course of America are therefore a question of the degree and intensity of Christianization. Christian Nationalists are often found among Unhyphenated Americans (or vice-versa).
Finally there are the New Nationalists. New Nationalism was coined in the 1990s by journalist Michael Lind, who describes it as an elite white regime. Under New Nationalism, the white elite (or “overclass”) withdraws into a private realm — private neighborhoods, private schools, private health care and private security. Working class whites are abandoned to a broad, publicly dependent underclass along with most people of color. The New Nationalism is deeply invested in a “bootstrap ideology” of America, built on private property rights and individual responsibility. The New Nationalists overlap with Christian Nationalists on some beliefs, but have little in common with Unhyphenated Americans. Communities broadly exhibiting these inequalities are most common in the Corridor from New York to northern Virginia , though they occur as suburban counties of nearly every major metropolitan area in the U.S.
What it Means for Others. These three concepts of American nationalism share several features. They introduce an identity component — wealth, or ethnicity or religious identity. They overlap with each other, largely through Protestant evangelical identity. And, they contrast against “out groups” that are growing in the U.S. — the secularists, immigrants, non-Caucasian ethnics and Muslims. Conflict in the GOP arises from the growing voices of white identity and Christian identity, versus efforts by the economic conservatives who populate the New Nationalism who seek to co-opt elites from non-white ethnic and racial groups.
The major victim of this new politics of competing forms of American nationalism a national consensus most recently observed by social scientist Alan Wolfe. At the end of the Clinton Administration, when political polarization had exploded into full flower, Wolfe wrote in his book One Nation After All that there was a broad-based consensus of tolerant belief across seemingly different American communities. This consensus has not survived the downward mobility of the white working class. The white working class is heavily populated with Christian Nationalists and Unhyphenated Americans. Its members are upset at the loss of an American Dream that was taken for granted by their grandparents and are threatened by future in which they will be an ethnic minority.”
And this led to Trump.
Even when he leaves, whether forcefully or otherwise, we will still have a dysfunctional government and the debate over our values. The issue here, like in Europe, is not about democracy. It is far more important. We have to decide on what form of nationalism we will embrace. The EU is valiantly fighting to hold off this debate but they will fail for the same reason America’s debate will eventually fail. The average citizen feels betrayed by government. I see no other end. Draining the swamp is doomed to failure because the major culprits always find safety.
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