The nation needs to rise up against nationalism
At a recent Trump rally in Houston, Texas, Trump proudly declared himself a nationalist. Though he had previously only been associated with this ideology by critics and fans, this marks the first time our nation’s current leader has openly embraced the term.
In the two weeks since that rally, there have been multiple domestic terrorist attacks committed in line with nationalist ideals, while Brazil now operates under the control of their own nationalist leader. We need to loudly and passionately define and reject the nationalist movement before it results in further mass violence.
A portion of the rise in nationalism appears to be out of ignorance of the word’s fundamental meaning and historical context. Nationalism is not simply a more extreme form of patriotism. Patriotism, the ideology that nationalists often invoke as a defense of their ideology, is defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary as simply “love for or devotion to one’s country.”
Nationalism, meanwhile, is defined as “a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” In the context of this definition, a nation is a group of people who inhabit a territory and share race, culture or history.
The very definition of nationalism implies action with the word “promotion.” Unlike patriotism, it is not an abstract feeling but a tangible movement that devalues other nations in order to promote itself through potentially violent means. The ideology is built upon active degradation of other countries or cultural groups.
Devoid of history or close examination, even this definition may seem harmless. Adherence to the America-first mindset posits the belief in the advancement of Americans – but then, of course, we’d have to define Americans. In the history of the nationalist movement in the United States, Americans have typically meant one group only: English-speaking white Christians.
A recent Time opinion piece put forth the idea that white nationalism is a misnomer due to the lack of a distinctive “white” language, religion or culture throughout European history and thus no white nation. This stance, however, ignores the material reality of current U.S. race relations in favor of a technicality that only holds significance internationally.
Redefining an ingrained term
With the exception of recent immigrants or a handful of communities that have retained their heritage over generations, previously-distinct European groups have melded into the English-speaking, Christian, white cultural identity that dominates the United States.
It is this nation – a group that shares territory, race and history – that white nationalists seek to advance above all other demographics inside or outside of the United States. When American nationalism is spoken of, white nationalism is nearly always the movement that first comes to mind.
In fact, the connotation is so ingrained into American consciousness that many critics accused Trump of intentionally dog-whistling his white supremacist audience.
Due to this action, a total redefinition of nationalism in the United States as an interracial and inter-religious movement devoid of its historical connotations is impossible. There is no effort on behalf of nationalist groups to represent, include or campaign for non-white, non-Christian Americans anywhere in their movement.
Even if re-branding would work, what would nationalism look like in a heterogeneous nation of immigrants?
If we choose to condemn globalism and only seek to promote national interests, would we ask our citizens to denounce the countries of their familial or cultural origins?
This view of America as a nation above all others raises the question of what makes an individual an American, and what their shared culture, race and history is comprised of.
Referring back to the Times article campaigning for a return of American nationalism, the author claims that nationalism declined after World War II due to a dissolution of American culture. In a sense this is true, but the reason is not a decline in patriotism or community.
The nation is clearly still grappling with what it means to be a true melting pot without devaluing any one racial or cultural group. The recent rise in nationalism is not only a response to this, but a step backwards in America’s progress that we cannot allow.
There is a reason nationalist movements only thrive in homogenous countries or groups that wish to create uniformity. Currently, the nation is too divided to come to a consensus as to what it means to be a nation of Americans. America is too fractured along political lines for there to be a coherent nationalist movement that is not founded upon racism or xenophobia.
Opinion columnist Adison Eyring is a media productions and political science sophomore and can be reached at [email protected]