Now President Trump is a self-described proud nationalist. Setting aside the term’s connection with heinous movements like “white nationalism” and German “National Socialism” or Nazism, this is still quite disturbing.
There is no simple definition of nationalism. It arose in Europe, in part, as an unexpected reaction to the Napoleonic Wars. Psychologically it was rooted in ethnic identity, a common language, common history and traditions, and common aspirations for the future.
Politically, it was harnessed to promote national self-interest and the principle of the nation-state, or political boundaries which encompass one ethnic unit.
Nationalism is not like patriotism, principally because it is based on ethnic exclusivity, whereas patriotism, which we cherish in the U.S., is based on ethnic inclusivity. In other words, it is possible to become an American, while it is not possible to become a Serb, a Croat, an Albanian or a Bulgarian. You either are or you aren’t.
Patriotism tended to replace nationalism in much of the West in part because of the moderating influences of the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution. In those areas of eastern Europe which were less affected by the above movements, social cohesion continued to be based on ethnicity and religion, often resulting in, as with the recent bloody conflicts in the Balkans, aggressive chauvinism, imperialistic tendencies, militarism and war.
Nationalists gain adherents through vilifying the “other,” and through historicism, or cherry-picking history.
In others words, they attract support through fear and lies, similar perhaps to President Trump’s closing arguments in the run-up to the mid-term elections.
While it is certainly likely that the president does not fully understand nationalism, he seems to have adopted some of its uglier attributes.
Personally, I prefer patriotism.
Dr. Bernd J. Fischer