News & Politics

Nationalism, Nativism, and Patriotism

Former U.S. President George W. Bush speaks at a forum sponsored by the George W. Bush Institute in New York, Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Nationalism, nativism, and patriotism — three separate terms, somewhat related in meaning, but with definitional  differences both subtle and profound.

Those definitions are important:

Nationalism: 

  1. spirit or aspirations common to the whole of a nation.
  2. devotion and loyalty to one’s own country; patriotism.
  3. excessive patriotism; chauvinism.
  4. the desire for national advancement or political independence.
  5. the policy or doctrine of asserting the interests of one’s own nation viewed as separate from the interests of other nations or the common interests of all nations.

Despite the fact that the definition of nationalism is very close to the definition of patriotism, the left always seems to highlight #3: the virulent form of nationalism that, as former President Bush pointed out, can lead to a toxic form of nationalism known as:

Nativism:

  1. the policy of protecting the interests of native inhabitants against those of immigrants.

If you come to the United States legally, there should be no argument. The interests of “native inhabitants” are exactly the same as those of legal immigrants. This is a founding principle of the U.S. and has made us a strong, vibrant country.

The definition of patriotism is straightforward, but important:

  1. devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.

George Bush used each of these words in his speech today, trying to define how Americans view themselves and their country in a confused and volatile age. My colleague Michael Walsh didn’t think much of the speech because it criticized Donald Trump in ways that not even many Democrats (and certainly no Republican) have done. PJM Washington Editor Bridget Johnson has an excellent summary of the speech showing that President Bush put a lot of thought into what he was going to say, knowing it would anger the pro-Trump Republicans but saying what he felt needed to be said.

And what needed to be said was a careful, pointed delineation between the viral nationalism of Trump and the simple, uncomplicated patriotism of tens of millions of Americans who embrace common values and a belief in the ultimate goodness of America. American exceptionalism may have fallen out of favor with many, but it’s alive and well in the heartland.

But the problem with the term “nationalism” is how its meaning has been deliberately twisted by many on the left to include not just the bigots and nativists among Trump supporters, but the tens of millions of patriotic Americans who harbor no ill will toward anyone and are being lumped in with the troglodyte white supremacists and kluxers as well as the isolationists who believe we can go back to the horse and buggy era of international trade.

But just because patriotic Americans  want a president to stand up for American interests — to put “America First —  does not make them rabid nationalists one step away from being fascists. The left has found it more than convenient to eschew the traditional definition of “nationalist” and accuse anyone who harbors love for America in the form of simple, patriotic devotion as something akin to a Nazi. It is a political construct designed to convince the gullible that only racist, nativist fascists support Trump and Republicans.

If Democrats believe that a president should put “America Second,” they must nominate someone who will tell the American people exactly that. President Obama got away with telling us that he wanted America “second to none” while failing to mention the fact that we have the most powerful military and the largest economy on the planet. Being “second to none” — we were to learn later — meant subsuming American interests to those of other nations, deliberately weakening the United States to bring us down a peg or two so that we were “equal” to other nations — not better.

The left knows that it if they run on a platform of “America Second” they will get slaughtered. So it is in their interests to demonize “nationalism” and nationalists to make ordinary people afraid of expressing patriotic feelings. As a political strategy, it may work. Certainly the press has tried to demonize nationalism since Trump was elected. But the good people of this country — the most generous, the most compassionate people on the planet — will continue to express their patriotic devotion to America and, more importantly, pass those feelings on to their children. They will be the true inheritors of America, not the hateful left or their allies on campuses across the country.