President Trump’s Dangerous Nationalism

During his brief inaugural address, President Donald J. Trump called for a new patriotism to “lift our sights and heal our divisions.” In the wake of the most divisive presidential campaign of the modern era, this sentiment was welcome. But the new president also demonstrated why he is an imperfect messenger. Using strident language reminiscent of his combative campaign rhetoric, Mr. Trump described an America characterized by widespread crime and poverty, decaying infrastructure, shuttered factories and failing public schools.

It was a simplistic, almost apocalyptic portrait, one that contains elements of truth but belies the realities of low unemployment, booming markets and falling crime rates. Yet in describing this “American carnage” in the way that he did, Mr. Trump set himself up to point the blame and name his enemy: the political and economic “establishment” that has “protected itself but not the citizens of our country.”

Far from an instrument of healing, the president’s address amounted to a declaration of war on globalization and the elites who reap most of its rewards. Mr. Trump’s first line of attack is old-fashioned nationalism: “It’s going to be America first,” he said, promising “the forgotten men and women of our country” that “every decision” he makes “will benefit American workers and American families.”

This promise echoes the isolationist “America First” rhetoric of the 1930s and 1940s. It is facile and misleading at best. The politics of policy-making, especially in a highly polarized environment, is often a zero-sum game in which some people benefit and some do not. At worst “America First” is a serious threat to the international solidarity that lasting peace and justice require. Our brothers and sisters live not only within our borders but across the world.  

Nationalism is not a new force in American politics. From the start, the national narrative has included an element of American exceptionalism, the belief that the United States has a vital, unique role to play in world history. Yet that mythic hubris takes the form of a false messianism in Mr. Trump’s vision. “At the bedrock of our politics,” he said, “will be a total allegiance to the United States of America, and through our loyalty to our country, we will rediscover our loyalty to each other.”

Patriotic Christians of every political persuasion should see this blind nationalism for the idolatry it is. Students of 20th-century history should see it for the clear danger it is, especially for those whom nationalism inevitably leaves behind. “Greatness for our nation,” Bishop Robert McElroy writes in the upcoming Feb. 6 issue of America, is not an idol, “a possession or power but an ever-challenging aspiration of the heart and soul.”

The ultimate instrument of our unity is the patient grace of God, not the greatness of the nation state. We render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, but it is in God we trust.

Mike Daniels
3 months 1 week ago
Today is a day for optimism not this doleful view of the moment. I love the Pope and if I were graced with the opportunity to discuss economics with him I'd say that the greatest charity one can do for the poor and the outcast is provide them a good job. Electing someone who makes American jobs and America prosperity (which means also world prosperity) his absolute first priority is not idolatry. Idolatry is what we have witnessed from the press for the last eight years. Give the man a chance - at least for one day!
Ryder Charles
3 months 1 week ago
"It was a simplistic, almost apocalyptic portrait one that ... belies the realities of ... falling crime rates." Chicago had 762 murders in 2016, the highest in 19 years. Detroit had 302 homicides in 2016. This is "carnage". This is a reality is is belied by citing "falling crime rates".
TM Lutas
3 months 1 week ago
Donald Trump reached out to the poor, the dispossessed, the excluded and put them at the center of America. This makes me happy. The comfortable, who have disproportionately gained for well over a decade, were put on notice that business as usual will not continue. I am saddened and disappointed that the editorial board finds this message statistically incorrect. Isn't Pope Francis' message of personal connection and interaction with the poor a clear condemnation of averages and other statistical technique substituting for the work of Christ in lifting up the least of our brethren? We should follow the Pope better. The US has for decades subsidized foreign foolishness to realize large wins, the Washington consensus and the end of the Cold War. That subsidy led to waste and abuse outside of our country. Foreign political elites could count on a check from DC to paper over their own self-dealing politics. I can't imagine how supporting such subsidies not in the interest of the US is in any way authentically Catholic. Instead, ending them would seem to be better. Making clear that hate and prejudice have no place in the patriotism he is calling for, Donald Trump already decried blind patriotism in favor of one that has love at its heart. That requires decision and discrimination that is the very opposite of what you claim.
Mike Tripodo
3 months 1 week ago
“every decision” he makes “will benefit American workers and American families.” .. You say that as if it's a bad thing.. Who else should he be trying to benefit?
Nicholas Clifford
3 months 1 week ago
I too was worried by the chauvinism (does he even know where the slogan "American First" comes from?), by the failure of DJT to reach out in any way to those who had opposed him, and by the litany of easy answers to difficult questions. If it's true, as some have said, that for every job lost to a trade agreement (like NAFTA) four jobs are lost to domestic technological change, robotization, call it what you will, it's difficult to see how we'll get back to something like the employment of the 1970s. This technological change is, after all, why industrial productivity rises while employment declines. If it's true, as many say, that many of the industrial goods imported into the US actually start life in this country before journeying overseas to be finished, won't tariffs on these "foreign" goods significantly hurt domestic employment? In any case, as has been pointed out, the real problem lies not with free trade and globalization. These increase national wealth as they are meant to do. But then what becomes of this increasing national wealth? Might the real problem lies in the choices made by individual countries as to how this wealth is distributed: do the social, economic and tax programs allow the largest part of the growing wealth of nations to be funneled off to a few people at the top rather than more broadly spread to the real producers? Whether a cabinet heavy with Wall Street billionaires will choose to do anything about this remains to be seen. I hope the answer is yes, and I hope that under a Trump administration income inequality can be brought down and the benefits of growing national wealth ore widely shared. I hope also that Democrats will judge Trump's programs on their real merits, rather than automatically saying No, as the GOP was wont to do to Obama. We'll see.
Jeffery Monaghan
3 months ago
President Trump is redefining what the term "America First" means. He spoke of how things are going to change "right here, right now." It simply means putting our country before any other country -- recognizing that other countries have the right (and responsibility) to put their interests first, as well.
Roth Ira
3 months 1 week ago
Cardinal Timothy Dolan helped kick off the inauguration of Donald Trump showing why many Catholics feel deserted by an ever right-leaning, ever politicized, U.S. hierarchy. More than a few believers will decide enough is enough and desert on account of the complicity of their leaders in the dilution of the Gospel message. The U.S. Church has no one to blame other than itself because the bishops helped elect the man. The Pope's warnings were ignored.
Lisa Weber
3 months 1 week ago
The only positive aspect to the Trump phenomenon is that people seem to realize that they need to be engaged in the political process. I have been heartened by the fact that resistance to him and his goals has already started, including a movement to impeach him. We have seen plenty of evidence to show that he is an incompetent and corrupt man. He does not deserve a chance to do any more damage than he has already done.
J Cosgrove
3 months ago
This is an interesting opinion by the editors. They clearly do not understand Trump so they criticize what they do not understand as opposed to try to understand. There is lot to criticize Trump on but his focusing on the American people is not one of them. Trump is a deal maker and as several commentators on television said yesterday, what he says is only an opening offer for his side. What eventually happens may be quite different from his original position. We will have to see. For those who value compromise, Trump seems like an ideal person. But he apparently won't compromise his values away. Will his economic nationalism which is meant to benefit his people be mercantilism or Adam Smith. If it is the later than American selfishness and British (substitute any other nation here) selfishness will lead to a better outcome for both. If it is mercantilism then all will spiral downward. There is an attempt here to claim an ideology for Trump when none exists. He is a very practical person who yesterday exposed the corruption of the political establishment for the whole world to see. So why are not the editors in favor of eliminating this corruption or is this article just a knee jerked reaction to anything a non Democrat proposes. To deny the carnage that exist in many of our inner cities is revealing. Maybe these people in our cities are part of the forgotten men and women of American that Trump wants to represent. The article reveals a lack of interest in the betterment of a substantial part of America that is clearly dysfunctional. Isn't that a racial attitude?
Jeffery Monaghan
3 months ago
I support our nation's President. I trust him, and I trust his judgment. I trust that he will defend our Constitution and serve as an executive with integrity. Throughout our history as a nation we have had the opportunity to choose a course which has defined us. Our leaders have made moral choices which have affected our economy and lifted us as a leader in the world. During the campaign, I heard President Trump talk about America First. To me that means creating and keeping jobs here in our country. It means defending our borders from illegal immigrants who bring illegal drugs, weapons, and crime. It means spending our money on our military and not giving money to terrorist nations or supporting rebels. It means holding our CIA accountable to our interests. We live in a competitive world; that cannot be denied. And at this moment in our history we need to defend our country from economic, social, and physical attack. In his four year term, President Trump has defined America First as his priority. Every soldier in our armed services makes the same daily choice; every law enforcement officer makes the same daily choice. I support them, and I support him. God Bless America!
J Cosgrove
3 months ago

The comments function seems to be problematic at present. No paragraph breaks in previous comments.

J Cosgrove
3 months ago

No way to edit comments either. Always handy since I make numerous typos in comments.

Thank you, thank you, thank you editors for providing the edit function!

Now just allow us to modify our comments written before the new format was published. I can edit this comment but not the jumbled one above that was published before the new website was set up.

Christine Miller
2 months 2 weeks ago

I guess I am the odd person out. I am deeply afraid for what is happening in our country and what will happen under this President. Business and government are not the same, and one does not lead in the same way. That Trump thinks he can come in with "first offers" and then come back for more on international discussions, is deeply troubling. The results of his first two calls, to Australia's PM and the President of Mexico were a disaster. Diplomacy is a complex career field, with its norms of behavior and speech. Shouting at others, making threats that were later called "jokes", and the things he throws out in conversations show a man who has no knowledge of what he is doing. And that is fine. I have had the word "winging it" in my mind ever since he started. He IS winging it, and just like a juggler, eventually something drops. A single intemperate word during the Cold War with the USSR could have meant war. It risk level hasn't changed.

We still don't know all that much about Trump, including the basis for his apparent obsequiousness toward Vladimir Putin, that indicates that Trump sees himself as being buddy buddy with this man. Contrary to Trump's statement to Bill O'Reilly, Putin, who IS a murderer, in the sense of ordering the death of a specific person he doesn't like, and his state security people will make it happen, does Donald Trump actually think ANY United States President has EVER done the same? We have gone after the heads of military organizations frequently as part of armed conflict, including after bin Laden and other ISIL leaders, but never a journalist or someone who is just an annoyance. President Trump needs to explain more than he has. He needs to come clean, including his business deals. He has so far just blown it off like no other recent candidate or President has done. What will he do about releasing his taxes next year?

President Trump has said repeatedly that NATO is obsolete. If he acts on that idea and pulls us out of NATO, it will be exactly what Putin wants: A free hand into Western Europe. I spent two years in the 1980s working on logistics requirements for that war, where the Soviet Union came through the Fulda Gap into Germany. I hope EUCOM (European Command) has dusted off those plans, because the risk is not over. Our troops flooding into Poland, into the Baltic Nations, etc. are the biggest obstruction Putin has. I never thought I'd see US troops invited into a Warsaw Pact country (Poland and the Baltics) in my life. Putin wants the Warsaw Pact nations back in his control. They don't want to go there.

I have been a military intelligence officer at the highest levels of our government for four years, and I am deeply afraid of what I see. A man who does not know how to use the methods of government agencies, and doesn't want to learn, because he apparently reads only reluctantly, (I suggest finding the clip of Donald Trump being deposed in NY. It is painful to watch as he acknowledges he has not read stuff he signs; that he relies on his people to tell him what it is about, and that he perhaps CAN'T find the place in the deposition they want to call hise attention to...) Instead he is relying on two people to get Executive Orders developed, and both those men have serious issues that demand crosschecks and limits on their views. And that isn't happening. There is a limit to what one can do by Executive Orders, and then where will we be? What will President Trump do then? There are 500 empty chairs demanding bodies, and all these people have to be approved by the Senate. Most have not been named, and those who have have not complied with the procedures required when hiring in at this level. No business would tolerate that, why should our Government?

Meanwhile, in our society, refugees are being demonized, and one group is being pitted against another. Trump has put himself forward as "I am the only man who can fix this" Although he never said it in those terms, this applies to another man I've learned about: His name was Jesus. Pretty lofty claims. Things are being asserted today that are disowned tomorrow. Trump throws out "facts" that are simply whatever supports his argument. They are not true, and are not even remembered by him the next day. How can a nation function like this? Whole categories of information on government web sites are being taken down, without explanation. The climate scientists who quickly made copies of as much as they could were prescient. We are losing our national memory and knowledge. This is scary.

Scary is the only feeling I have today. And mourning. A man who worked incredibly hard for us has finished his term and is no longer our President. A woman who, despite all her flaws as a CANDIDATE, would have been a knowledgeable President, focused on families and kids and those in need. And she's not here either. Instead, we have a man who is operating like a loose cannon. He seems out of place, wandering around the WH residence at night, all alone some of the time...and his frustration levels are rising daily.

All I know how to do is to pray, and to work harder than ever for the poor in our community. And hope. Four years is something I hope we can overcome.

Pr Chris

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