President Trump: Patriotism vs. Nationalism
Below is the original version of my February 7, 2017, Financial Times’ article titled, “A more self-conscious white America is rising under Trump.”
This version includes material omitted from the final publication. I wrote this article shortly after President Trump’s inauguration. At the time, the media were focused on white nationalism and the alt-right. My task was to explain what I thought was happening based on my previous research. Please read the entire article BEFORE commenting.
President Trump: Patriotism vs. Nationalism
President Donald J. Trump won the 2016 presidential election with the support of a majority of white Americans. Among these white Americans were some on the far right who we would characterize as white nationalists. Does this make Mr. Trump’s election one based on racist, extreme sentiments? I say, no.
Many people who supported Mr. Trump were drawn to the Republican Party platform because of its emphasis on the right to life, limited government, individual freedoms, equal rights, and the rule of law. It is not always clear where Democratic Party leaders stand on these basic American ideals.
On Inauguration Day, President Trump offered a new vision of putting American interests first when it comes to tax policy, trade deals, immigration, and defense. These are areas where the Democratic Party has proven to be weak and ineffectual. In his address, Mr. Trump emphasized patriotism and the unifying force of an American national identity transcendent of race and ethnicity.
As he campaigned for office, Mr. Trump seemingly understood the fatigue Americans suffer from due to overdoses of political correctness, identity politics, and a brand of multiculturalism that overtly excludes many Americans. A more self-conscious white America is developing, especially among able-bodied white men, as they see themselves as disadvantaged in their competition with other racial and ethnic groups.
White Americans have a reason to be concerned about their future. Studies by Princeton economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton document rising death rates for middle-aged white Americans from preventable causes such as drug abuse, liver disease, and suicide. These have been called “deaths of despair”, mostly affecting people with a high school education or less. Their impending minority status also creates apprehension; by the year 2044, whites will be a numerical minority in the U.S.
Whites live in a world where racial identity politics is played by every other group. As observers, they have not had to invent the model. Whites only need to copy what other groups have done. In the late 1990s, I discovered the precursor of what is now the alt-right movement in the form of Jared Taylor, Michael Levin, and Michael Hart, well-educated intellectuals in the white rights movement. I called them new white nationalists to distinguish them from the Ku Klux Klan and Neo-Nazis. What I found most fascinating was their skillful use of the language of multiculturalism and civil rights to undergird their support of a more nationalistic-minded white population. These nationalists see racial discrimination as something whites experience without having the protection or concern of government.
As I explained in The New White Nationalism in America, nationalism is the belief that people with a common language, heritage, and culture should be able to maintain their unique differences. It can be positive if it revolves around uniting allegiance to one’s country or negative if it is narrowly focused on race. Nationalism undergirds the alt-right, a movement epitomized by Richard Spencer, President of the National Policy Institute. It is a different from old-style white supremacy, as it is an intellectual movement; proponents use social science data, FBI statistics, and Center for Disease Control reports to make their case. Old style white supremacy was riddled with violent overtures towards minorities and demeaning racial epithets.
White Americans have been concerned about a number of issues I identified in 2002 that were mostly ignored by mainstream politicians. These included liberal immigration policies that rapidly changed the demographic makeup of the nation, structural changes in the economy that lead to fewer job opportunities, anger about race-based affirmative action, and fears about black-on-white violent crime.
President Trump has vowed to address these issues. Instead of stirring the pot of racial nationalism, President Trump seems likely to follow recommendations I advanced in The New White Nationalism. There is a need for America to move away from identity politics and towards an American national identity that recognizes the ideals of the founders of our nation. Mr. Trump hopes to use patriotism and our Judeo-Christian heritage to unite as many Americans as he can. For him to succeed, African Americans and Hispanics have to get on board.
Complaints about President Trump’s support from white Americans is misguided. We ignore the fact that the Democratic Party is not a viable option for Americans who care about lawlessness, welfare reform, illegal immigration, and the breakdown of the family.
President Trump has inspired hope for many Americans who care about what our nation can and should be. Via his actions and his rhetoric, he has signaled that all lives matter. This is a welcomed acknowledgment for whites who feel neglected and have grown tired of defending themselves against endless charges of racism. As America moves forward as a nation, the eyes of the world are upon us. Hopefully, the world will give Mr. Trump the same opportunity to succeed or fail that it extended President Obama during his eight years in office.”
Carol M. Swain, Professor of Political Science and Professor of Law at Vanderbilt University, is the author of The New White Nationalism in America: Its Challenge to Integration and co-author of Contemporary Voices of White Nationalism. Facebook: Profcarolswain Twitter: carolmswain Click Here to Visit her Online Store.