The Corner

Politics & Policy


So I haven’t watched either President Trump’s inauguration or the coverage of all the marches yesterday. Why not?

I’m attending an intimate conference in an undisclosed location about the great French thinkers Montaigne and Pascal. They both say politics isn’t so important. But they may also both be a bit weak on the nobility of the virtues displayed through political involvement.

I have read about what’s been going on, including the president’s speech and the lavish and hugely favorable coverage of the marches.

Here’s a word that jumps off the page in both cases: solidarity. It’s not a word we Americans use much, and it’s one we often associate with misguided “collectivism.” But the truth is, maybe, that we’ve suffered a bit from a shortage of solidarity. And it’s possible to see something good about both the speech and the marches.

The president talked about the solidarity or experience of unity we can experience as loyal citizens of our country. And that patriotism should be the American remedy for all forms of bigotry.

Now his words have been criticized for an excessive display of nationalism. That is true. But it’s also true that our nation is divided these days into bubbles — into the two or more alternative realities — because we’ve slighted citizenship, those shared dignified and egalitarian experiences that are an antidote to our vast disparities in wealth and status. It’s through being citizens that we learn how to trust and respect strangers, and to connect personal privileges to common responsibilities. The shortage of such experiences these days really does produce both cosmopolitan elitism and xenophobic tribalism.

Both liberal humanitarians and conservative individualists tend to reduce citizenship to national chauvinism and an illegitimate form of “rent seeking.” They criticize it from the point of of human rights, shared by all human beings everywhere.

The truth is, however, that rights are protected only by the soldiers, police, and so forth of a particular nation. And that point the president made clear.

Still, the president erred by forgetting the solidarity that unites the human race. He talked about total allegiance to America, forgetting who each of us is as a free individual and a member of the universal City of God.

The truth is that each of us has privileges and responsibilities as citizens. But we’re not merely citizens, and so we have other duties, loyalties, and loves. The marchers today were all about the solidarity of women everywhere. Their thought is: My deepest allegiance is to those who share my nature or irreducible personal identity. There’s something good about transnationalist solidarity today, and there’s something to the thought that someone is more fundamentally a woman than a citizen.

So it might be fair and balanced to celebrate, a bit, the correction of individualism in both expressions of solidarity over the past couple of days.

It might be better for the peacefully demonstrating women also to be in solidarity with all their fellow citizens, to share the patriotism that can be at least somewhat of a remedy to all forms of tribalism and bigotry. Men and women can be free and equal citizens together with shared privileges and responsibilities that transcend sexual differentiation and gender expression. Loyal citizenship should also transcend the partisan division that separates those who voted for Trump and those who voted for Clinton.

It would be better for the president to also express his solidarity with free men and women everywhere. That’s what American leaders did, for example, in solidarity with the anti-Communist dissidents (who also spoke so eloquently of solidarity as indispensable for resisting tyrants of all kinds). That form of solidarity did not lead, in the case of President Reagan, to imprudent humanitarian interventions or even to bad trade deals.

America First is often reasonable, as our leaders think of protecting our citizens first. And loyalty and solidarity are neglected virtues day, and that neglect is one cause of Trump’s unexpected victory. Having said that, solidarity can’t be reduced to a quality of someone who’s& an American exclusively and absolutely.

Peter Augustine LawlerPeter Augustine Lawler is Dana Professor of Government at Berry College. He is executive editor of the acclaimed scholarly quarterly Perspectives on Political Science and served on President George ...