The “Apotheosis of Washington” graces the copper dome of the Capitol rotunda, serving as an every-day reminder of the origin of our nation’s strength. Photo: Architect of the Capitol
Isn’t it laughable that those who most vociferously condemn nationalism as divisive are those who promote identity politics most? This hypocrisy should come as no surprise, as the most avid practitioners of Orwellian doublethink are the American progressive commentariat, who have little difficulty simultaneously rallying and segmenting the “oppressed” by gender or race while demeaning appreciation of our diverse nation as mere tribalism. Though the term “nationalist” has often been appropriated by counterproductive agendas, there’s little doubt that celebrating our shared national identity is the most inclusive means we have of defeating division and achieving unity in our splintering country.
The notion of “the self” is based on layers of associations and identities ordered into a hierarchy by personal philosophy, which informs our sense of morality and personal political beliefs. Generally speaking, political philosophy can be grouped into two opposing forms: aspirational politics, and identity politics. Aspirational politics looks to the inclusive denominations in one’s identity—most significantly, the nation; think, “I am an American.”
One would be correct to point out that the widest theoretical identity is humanity, but one must recognize that while people generally have a shared understanding of what human rights are—even China and Saudi Arabia were signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights—exactly how one guarantees these rights and which rights one prioritizes are dependent on one’s narrower identities—chiefly, the nation.
This larger American identity houses all those who choose to believe in a combination of hard work, sacrifice, responsibility, opportunity, personal freedom, and American exceptionalism. Take this into contrast with identity politics, which emphasizes the smaller, pettier distinctions, like the color of one’s skin or one’s sex—things that one has no control over and is thus permanently wed to. One’s identity can be celebrated, but seizing these innate distinctions, as certain progressives do, and twisting them into weapons of hate in the name of “justice” only serves to water the seeds of autocracy. History’s autocracies all deluded themselves into believing they were the vanguards of morality, allowing the freedoms of open society to wither in the name of blind retribution; fighting the patriarchy doesn’t justify a matriarchy, and Louis Farrakhan’s black supremacy is as evil as the terror of white supremacy.
Where nationalists can and must take special notice from progressives is on the matter of our greatest shared legacy: the environment. We all strive to build a stronger, richer society for our children, but what good is what we build if the planet they inherit is nothing but a barren wasteland? We may not be able to stop global warming, but at the very least we can stop filling our air with ash and our rivers and oceans with plastic and sludge. The nation we adore is not only of people but the blessed land we inhabit—to love our country is to be stewards and, when needed, guardians of nature.
America’s new nationalists, full of energy and pride, must stay vigilant to what it means to put the nation first, lest vengeful identity politics shame and taint their efforts to build a better America for all its rightful citizens. Remember well the distinction between the pain of ex uno plures and the strength of e pluribus unum; we are not many from one, but one from many.