‘New Nationalism’ Amounts to Generic White-Identity Politics

Jonah Goldberg, National Review Online, August 17, 2016

To listen to both his defenders and critics, Donald Trump represents the U.S. version of a new nationalism popping up around the world. I’m not so sure.

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First, suggestions that a Trumpian nationalism is rising among all low-income Americans could only be true if all low-income Americans were white. Reading Breitbart’s celebrations of populist nationalism or the constant invocations of “We the People” from Trump supporters on social media might leave you with that impression. This is not to say that everyone who supports Trump is a “white nationalist”–which conjures various racist doctrines. Rather, it is to simply point out that Trump’s support is overwhelmingly, almost exclusively, white.

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Imagine for a moment you are a member of the working white poor in the parts of America that J. D. Vance writes about in his best-selling Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis. Imagine how ridiculous phrases like “white (male) privilege” sound to you. Imagine you are an evangelical Christian, repeatedly told by elites and authority figures that your faith is the source of un-American injustices–but that to suggest Islamic terrorism might have some relationship to Islam is rank bigotry.

Every year, liberal pundits metaphorically rub their hands in glee at the latest demographic projections forecasting the dissolution of the white majority in the United States. Is it so shocking that some white people might not greet that prospect with the same glee–particularly when they have not seen tangible benefits from the immigration that is the source of all that diversity?

Daily, I receive e-mails and comments from people who describe themselves as nationalists–but who are, in fact, making arguments for white culture as if whites were now an oppressed minority in need of an American government that zealously defends their interests. Right or wrong, many of them believe that Trump will protect white culture from the forces of multiculturalism, and Christianity from spreading secularism.

Which brings me back to why I think “nationalism” is a poor word to describe what we’re witnessing in this election.

If nationalism is supposed to do anything, it’s supposed to unify the country. When I look at these so-called nationalists, though, I don’t see a unifying force. I see the latest entrants into a decades-old game of subdividing the country into tribes seeking to yoke government to their narrow agendas.

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