Throughout this presidential campaign we’ve heard many liberals and neoconservatives carp against the nationalism espoused by Donald Trump and condemn how nationalism continues to resonate among tens of millions of regular Americans. Elitists and media messengers likewise express horror when Mr. Trump announces that in all matters, be they domestic or foreign, his policy and attitude will be “America first.”
Why is loving one’s nation and putting its countrymen first, which is the definition of nationalism, so offensive to liberals, elitists, and neoconservatives? Why are those who imbibe the natural love and preference of citizen toward country and countrymen immediately scorned and accused of harboring xenophobia?
Currently, liberals own our political and social vocabulary, defining terms in a push to dictate to us what is considered proper thinking or respectable behavior. At its core, political leftism, today’s dominant variant of liberalism, disdains distinctiveness and yearns for a universalism leveling everything as the same — be it in sexual conduct, values, morality, religion, or country. Nothing riles left liberals more than nationalism, which places a preference for one’s country and its unique ideals and traditions over another country.
Nationalism is the foremost obstacle preventing the march of socialism and global transnationalism wherein nations purposely shed and lose their identity and distinctiveness in favor of a bland, non-distinct shell and core. Accordingly, the concept of nationalism leaves the gate already tainted and maligned, taboo in “enlightened” and acceptable company.
Decrying nationalism is becoming a facile way for liberals to impugn the motives and integrity of those who love our historic American ways, requiring of patriots a sensitivity training not required of others.
But nationalism, especially in a good-willed country like America, is a positive and natural sentiment. When beholding the destruction upon Israel by Babylon, the prophet Jeremiah laments not only the loss of life but the loss of nationhood: “The crown is fallen from our head The Lord has caused Zion to be forgotten”(Lamentations). Love of nation and place of origin and residence is a fundamental human attachment, as is family. Indifference to nationhood and disparagement of American nationalism is what is abnormal.
Among the populace are elitists who feel morally and socially superior to their countrymen and see themselves as citizens of the world, apart and above the hoi polloi living outside urban beltways. For them, cosmopolitanism over Americanism is a badge of sophistication, a way of displaying a more worldly understanding and taste. Beyond the smugness is a desire to be a member of a ruling class entitled to govern and be well-connected, not to mention the financial benefits that accrue with such membership.
Many of today’s neoconservatives are former Democrats who became alarmed at liberalism’s excesses. Neoconservatism distinguishes itself from historic conservatism. While the neocons discarded some of their former liberal ideals, their fear of nationalism remained because of Nazism.
Their fear is understandable, but misdirected. They seem unable to distinguish between the toxic nationalism of pre-World War II Europe and what has been the favorable norm and condition here in America. America is not Europe — indeed she was born in rebellion against European attitudes and prejudices. American nationalism is an admirable phenomenon based on the quintessential American belief of fair play, openness, meritocracy, idealism, and kept in place generation after generation by an overwhelmingly good willed people who are philo-Semitic and inspired by the Old Testament.
Americanism has historically been a necessary component of conservatism. Genuine conservatism, as delineated by Burke and Kirk, requires a specific affinity and national identification with the people and their traditions. Absent that affinity and identification, conservatism simply becomes an economic theory of the right as is socialism a theory on the left, both sharing a detachment from the distinctive cultural aspirations of the people and perpetuation of their heritage.
In redefining conservatism, too many have made nation-building a foreign policy imperative. Nation-building is simply social engineering on a global scale. Our suffering in behalf of nation-building by trying to remake the Middle East has been a flesh and blood suffering. It is time someone announced that America and Americans come first.
For most citizens their concern is rooted in the most profoundly normal and human instinct: the need to protect one’s self and family; which is rational and moral.
It is not white supremacism for people with self-respect to love and admire their background and history, and to defend and be proud of it. In fact, it is normal and healthy. Transnationalism opposes this and aims to denude each western country of its uniqueness and severely marginalize that segment of the population wishing to preserve and live by the historic values of their country. Transnationalism takes power from a country’s people and imposes laws from above by a global, multiculturalist ruling class, based on a universal standard of one size fits all. It is the socialist dream-come-true. It imperils our future.
• Rabbi Aryeh Spero is the author of “Push Back: Reclaiming the American Judeo-Christian Spirit” (Evergreen).