“Nationalism” has become the Left’s favorite devil word in this election season, an epithet flung at anyone who dares to suggest the American government ought to do something about border security.
You can get labeled as a nationalist merely for having the temerity to suggest the U.S. government should prioritize the needs of U.S. citizens in trade deals. You don’t have to loudly root for the home team in “jingoistic” terms to get slapped with the label; merely acknowledging there is a home team is bad enough.
Like “racism,” the term “nationalism” has been broadened and cheapened so much that it has been drained of meaning. In fact, nationalism is now linked with racism in the liberal mind, part of an ideological conveyor belt that ends in “fascism.”
The Left has convinced itself that nationalism is a vital component of fascism, which leads them to the dangerously mistaken conclusion that they cannot be fascists if they aren’t “America First!” nationalists. They think they can flirt with all the other economic principles and political instruments of fascism, but as long as they remain firm in their conviction that the United States is a worse-than-average country with a uniquely horrible rural population, they don’t have to worry about slipping over the edge.
The liberal crusade against nationalism is more than just a convenient way to accuse conservatives and populists of xenophobia. It’s part of a deliberate strategy to erode national sovereignty.
Consider one of the most popular anti-nationalist formulations in the Democrat Party today, parroted by everyone from President Barack Obama on down: the claim that efforts to control immigration are unseemly, because “that’s not who we are.”
This curse is often flung at the notion of building a border fence. When a politician claims that building an effective physical barrier along the border is “not who we are,” they’re signaling that they don’t take border security seriously. They certainly don’t care about the message sent by unsightly fences, or armed guards, when it’s time to secure their personal property, because their own security is something they are very serious about.
The “ugly border fence” idea is also an attack on the very notion of having a border, an assertion that America has no right to keep deserving migrants out. When you build a stout fence around your own property, you do want to send a “keep out, unless I invite you in” message. You feel entitled to send that message, because controlling access to property is a crucial aspect of ownership.
The open-borders crowd doesn’t think American citizens truly “own” American soil. Indeed, a major element of left-wing education/propaganda is that American soil was stolen from its rightful owners, an original sin that implies no subsequent generation of U.S. citizens has any absolute right to forbid migration.
Obama shares that opinion. In 2014, for example, he complained about Americans’ supposedly illegitimate desire to control their borders;
Part of what’s wonderful about America is also what makes our democracy hard sometimes, because sometimes we get attached to our particular tribe, our particular race, our particular religion, and then we start treating other folks differently. And that, sometimes, has been a bottleneck to how we think about immigration. If you look at the history of immigration in this country, each successive wave, there have been periods where the folks who were already here suddenly say, well, I don’t want those folks. Even though the only people who have the right to say that are some Native Americans.
The assertion that Americans have no authority to set immigration rules, and that there is no significant distinction between legal and illegal immigration, is part of a deliberate assault on American national identity.
If we’re not able to define and enforce our own requirements for citizenship and non-citizen resident status, then we’re not a legitimate nation.
It’s very easy to put that assertion to the test: just talk about “American national identity” in front of a liberal, or an open-borders Republican, and watch them squirm. Their minds immediately skip along that ideological conveyor belt to racism and fascism when American identity is discussed. To the extent they believe such a thing exists, they tend to regard its defining attributes as open borders and multiculturalism. They certainly don’t think our Constitution is anything special – they’re much more likely to cite international law for moral justification – and they find little in our history to brag about.
Notice that left-wing politicians are almost entirely unconcerned with their duties to American citizens, especially those who resist the Left’s agenda. When they speak of “duty,” they always refer to either specific constituencies favored by the Left, or vague “duties” to the international community, or mankind at large.
Liberals comprehensively reject the idea that America’s Ruling Class should be playing hard for Team America in all spheres of global competition. Their first requirement for acceptable foreign military intervention is that America does not benefit from it. The first whiff of national interest turns the whole enterprise into a corrupt “war for oil,” or similar act of pillage, especially if a Republican president pulled the trigger.
It’s interesting how nationalism is now considered synonymous with nativism, which elevates the native-born citizen above the immigrant. There is, in truth, not much of a market for nativism in the United States. There are squabbles about whether various politicians meet the citizenship criteria for becoming President, but those arguments get attention precisely because they are so unusual.
The Left uses “nativism” as an insult against anyone who rejects their assertion that legal and illegal immigrants are interchangeable. American culture almost universally honors and admires legal immigrants, but part of the all-out assault on our national identity is the accusation that it’s hypocritical to applaud legal citizens while criticizing illegal immigration. Our sense of pride in the vast number of legal immigrants America welcomes has been taken hostage, and the ransom demand is amnesty for illegals.
In truth, we can be simultaneously warm and welcoming to legal immigrants, and crisply efficient in policing our borders. There is absolutely no logical contradiction between those two stances.
Obviously, there is political gain for Democrats in encouraging ethnic solidarity between legal and illegal immigrants. The third-generation child of a Mexican family that immigrated legally to the United States decades ago is told she has more in common with an illegal alien from Guatemala than with her fellow American citizens of non-Hispanic extraction. Of course the sense of American national identity is diluted, and made into something sinister, in the eyes of people who are raised on such nonsense, especially if they have only recently escaped the clutches of anti-American academia.
Liberal anti-nationalism is inherently divisive, something they regard as a political crime in most other contexts.
Social cohesion is inevitably damaged when the concepts of nationhood and patriotism are attacked. People who share a strong common identity as Americans can overcome many of their other differences. People who have been taught to think of patriotism as the jingoistic, nativist business of simpletons, while “sophisticates” focus on everything that’s wrong with their country, are much easier to divide into warring ethnic, religious, and ideological groups, the way the Left likes it. Those who have been taught to believe that “American” is an identity they can never fully claim are more willing to adopt an adversarial posture toward their unjust, bigoted, exploitative neighbors.
There is a deeper reason for the Left’s antipathy to “nationalism,” however. Their real target is sovereignty – of the individual, the state, and the nation.
Sovereignty is the antithesis of collectivist power. If you are a sovereign individual, you have rights no government can take away, no matter how many votes it collects. There are things the government simply cannot force you to do. You have surrendered only a limited amount of personal freedom to the social contract, and the government must uphold its end of that contract.
This remains true as power rises through local and state governments. They’re supposed to have a certain degree of sovereignty as well. The Constitution was written, debated, and ratified by people who wanted to establish a very precisely balanced relationship between communities, states, and the federal government.
One of their major concerns was that power becomes more unaccountable and uncontrollable as it grows more remote. That’s exactly why the Left has declared war on sovereignty, including that of the United States. They want power elevated to a level where it cannot be controlled by voters, to eliminate resistance. The people made to suffer under collectivist schemes have a tendency to vote against them, given a chance.
The loss of sovereignty is palpable in Europe, where citizens have been told they have no right to object as a vast and hostile migrant population is swept into their countries. The European voter is told he has only two choices: meekly submit to the vision of their elites, because even verbal objections to the migration plan are unacceptable, or be labeled a “right-wing nationalist thug,” little better than the fascists of the previous century.
It’s no coincidence that in a “world without borders,” as Secretary of State John Kerry put it recently, voters discover that the list of issues they’re permitted to vote upon grows inexorably shorter. The global-warming movement is eager to craft treaties that will bind America, without any American voter having a say in the matter – in fact, they’ll candidly tell you their strategy is based on the premise that idiotic American voters can’t be allowed a say in affairs they’re not qualified to understand.
International bureaucracies that diminish the autonomy of individual citizens are all the rage. Domestic bureaucracies at the federal level leech away what remains of state and personal sovereignty. When Congress offloads its responsibilities onto powerful federal agencies with unelected administrators, it diminishes the ability of voters to control the State by “voting the bums out of office” – and, frankly, that ability was wildly oversold to begin with.
You’ll notice the people who attack national identity with the greatest enthusiasm are also people who have little enthusiasm for accountable, limited government. How can you hold a politician accountable for his or her duty to America, if “America” is an almost meaningless concept?
The Left is pushing hard to grant benefits funded by American taxpayers to people who aren’t citizens. That’s a very pure expression of the ideal that American citizens are nothing special, with no particular claim to the fealty of their ruling class. Our political elite feel no particularly duty to taxpayers, but they insist taxpayers have a long list of duties to people who aren’t citizens of the United States.
National identity isn’t sinister, or brutish. It’s an important way we constrain the power of government, by breaking it down into entities small enough for voters to control, and localized enough to understand their needs. A one-world government would be a dystopian nightmare, not a utopia that will mark the end of history. We can certainly aspire to have states and nations living in harmony – competitive, rather than combative – but when borders are erased, representative democracy goes right along with it. The distance between citizens and their politicians must never be allowed to become too great.