I was troubled on Monday evening after President Donald Trump, speaking at a rally in Houston, Texas, on behalf of Senator Ted Cruz, a fellow Republican, made a very bold and daring statement. The president said, quite matter-of-factly, that he is a supporter of nationalism.
At first touting himself as an opponent of globalism, Trump went further in his statements. “You know what I am, I’m a nationalist. Use that word,” he said, according to the previous reporting from the Inquisitr. The crowd went wild.
The problem with this statement, however, is that it lacks clarity. On its face, the word “nationalist” for many simply means a love for one’s nation. Is that a bad thing? It’s not — but the definition belongs to a separate word: patriotism. Nationalism, based on historical context, means something much more worrisome.
So what is nationalism? George Orwell, the author of 1984, Animal Farm, and many other books and stories, is considered an expert on the subject by many. His commentaries on nationalism give us some insights into what the ideology is actually all about.
Nationalism, he wrote, is “the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests.”
TRUMP: I am a Nationalist.
— Mikel Jollett (@Mikel_Jollett) October 23, 2018
Orwell went on to explain the more sinister side of nationalism. From the Orwell Foundation:
“Nationalism…is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.”
In other words, nationalists seek to grow their power, and not necessarily for the betterment of their own interest, but for what their “nation or other unit” believes to be best. And oftentimes, that comes at the expense of others within a country’s borders.
More contemporary scholars on the subject tend to agree with Orwell’s assessment. Retired Lieutenant Colonel William Astore, who is also an academic and a history professor, noted in a piece he wrote for HuffPost last year that many of his students who ran in conservative circles had an “America: love it or leave it” mentality. He argued that those sentiments were not patriotic, but nationalistic.
“Patriotism, I would tell my students, meant an informed love of country, meaning that a patriot was open to seeing the faults in his or her country, and willing to work hard to change things for the better,” Astore wrote. “The ‘love it or leave it’ mentality, I explained, was a form of false patriotism; an unthinking form, a type of blind infatuation. Nationalism, in a word.”
Astore also warned against nationalism, pointing out that those who ascribed to the belief often ignored facts and research in favor of their mission’s overall goal.
“The nationalist succeeds in constructing his own ‘reality,’ a twisted version of alternative facts, an unthinking construct, a remorseless world without pity and compassion for others,” Astore wrote.
So what do I think? I’ve studied nationalist governments, their histories, and their follies. At their darkest, they encourage destruction and murder, including genocide of groups they consider outside of the “nation” within their borders, all in the name of the state or the people they believe to be “superior.” At their “best,” nationalist governments make life very difficult for those “outsiders,” belittling them with harassment, creating barriers to their rights, and nationalists sometimes prop up apartheid laws in order to promote their own cause.
My shorter definition would read like this: Nationalism is a fervent and fanatical love for country, coupled with the idea that those who don’t share the viewpoints of adherents to the “cause” are part of a subgroup of “others” who are undeserving (in nationalists’ eyes) of protections or privileges inherent to all within a given jurisdiction.
Put bluntly, it is a dangerous and concerning ideology, and to hear the president espouse it so openly during a political rally, to a round of applause no less, should cause deeply disturbing feelings among true patriots of this country. Trump must explain himself, and define what it is he means exactly when he says he’s a “nationalist.”