Sorting Out What’s Nationalism and What’s Patriotism

by Jim Geraghty

From today’s Morning Jolt, a contribution to the ongoing debate on nationalism…

Read Rich Lowry and Ramesh Ponnuru on nationalism.

Read Jonah Goldberg’s response. Read Ben Shapiro’s response.

Then read Rich’s response to Jonah. I’ll wait.

Okay, good, you’re back.

At the core of this discussion is how nationalism differs from patriotism.  From Nathan Hale’s terrific World War One graphic novel, Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood:

That distinction in the lower left corner – forgive the blurriness from my scanner – seems clear enough. But if “loving your country and hating all other countries” is the definition of nationalism, this doesn’t really fit most of the movement that drove Trump to the presidency last year. Trump’s biggest fans don’t hate all other nations. A lot of them have a creepy admiration or fascination with Vladimir Putin and Russia, and let’s not even get started on the alt-Right’s enthusiasm for the scantily-clad females of Japanese manga.

It might be more accurate to say that the Trump-style nationalists don’t value much beyond our borders, which includes a lot of things that Republicans traditionally did value: International trade and safe shipping lanes, alliances like NATO, a steady stream of legal immigrants, a loosely-defined responsibility to try to keep the world safe beyond our borders. As a country, we’re not always quick to respond to far-off bloody massacres like the gassing of the Kurds or the Balkans or Rwanda, but we do denounce them. (Whether or not we actually give a damn, we give a damn about whether we’re perceived as giving a damn.) For quite a few presidencies, we’ve at least given lip service to the promotion of human rights abroad. We’ve generally tried to promote democracy and oppose dictatorships.

But over the last decade and a half or so, reaching out beyond our borders increasingly became associated with apologizing, making unilateral concessions, no good deed going unpunished and the United States getting the short end of the stick. The Bush administration spent enormous blood and treasure trying to build a safer, more secure, and free world, and in response, plenty of world leaders — including those in countries we thought of as allies — treated America as a universal scapegoat.

Enter Obama, who kept literally bowing to foreign leaders. Early in his presidency at a Latin American summit, Obama sat as  Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega spent 50 minutes furiously denouncing the United States as the root cause of all problems in Latin America. Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, usually a pretty enthusiastic fan of Obama, noted, “Ortega made a show of being rude. A flash of presidential anger from Obama would have been in order.”

If our president won’t walk out on a 50-minute diatribe denouncing the United States of America, who will? If we don’t stand up for ourselves, why should we expect anyone else to do it, either?

When Trump says, “America first!” a lot of people familiar with Charles Lindbergh interpret it as, “Don’t fight Nazis!” But it’s unlikely that the audiences before Trump would applaud that sentiment, even on their worst days. No, they’re applauding the idea of standing up for ourselves, of no longer having to sacrifice our priorities and interests for a nebulous sense of the global greater good.

Think back to the lyrics of the “Donald Trump jam,” that weird little ditty performed by the little girls at a Trump rally in Pensacola, Florida: “When freedom rings— Answer the call! On your feet! Stand up tall! Deal from strength or get crushed every time…”

If this resurgent nationalism represents a collective statement of, “we are tired of you crapping on us, blaming us for your own problems, stirring up hatred of us and then turning around and asking for help,” then it is to be cheered.

Of course, when Rich and Ramesh point out, “The country’s founding ideals, history, and institutions barely enter into [Trump’s] worldview… The elements of American nationalism that Trump scants are moderating influences on it” …. well, that’s a pretty big deal! That’s what keeps nationalism from turning into “this country/world is for our superior kind, not their inferior kind.” That’s what separates unity from compulsion.

Speaking of superior groups and inferior groups and compulsion, let’s turn to the author of Animal Farm and 1984, George Orwell:

Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, 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.

Orwell also wrote that nationalism is fueled by an “indifference to reality.”

In nationalist thought there are facts which are both true and untrue, known and unknown. A known fact may be so unbearable that it is habitually pushed aside and not allowed to enter into logical processes, or on the other hand it may enter into every calculation and yet never be admitted as a fact, even in one’s own mind.

Stubborn refusal to acknowledge inconvenient facts? Hey, does that remind you of anyone these days?

Heck, does it remind you of almost everyone these days?

The Corner

The one and only.