Wednesday, March 2, 2016

It's The Nation, Stupid

I am going to repeat myself, but I am saying something I have been saying for years and it bears repeating: nationalism is an extremely powerful force in American politics and Trump is exploiting it.  Most Americans are under the self-serving delusion that Americans are "patriotic" and not "nationalistic," which is just not true.  Scholars of American history are surprisingly susceptible to the soft-pedaling of nationalism as a force in American life.  On top of that, so many scholars in the humanities have been talking about diasporas and the declining power of the nation-state, as if it were an inevitability.  While we have experienced a great deal of globalization over the last three decades, those forces have done much to stoke the flames of nationalist resentment. Look no further than Trump.  He is using global trade and immigration to throw gasoline on those nationalist fires.

The lack of an understanding of the centrality of nationalism in American history and politics is causing many pundits to just miss the boat.  They scratch their heads and say "Trump is getting support from across class and regional and religious lines, how is he doing this?" He's doing it because nationalism is a force that has the ability to transcend other identities and bring people together who might not normally see themselves on the same team.  It is a force that can whip up the masses in a frothy frenzy to be channeled by demagogues.

Because let's be clear here.  The vast majority of Republicans probably don't give a flying fuck about the capital gains tax or the estate tax.  Unless you are a millionaire, those taxes are pretty irrelevant to your life.  Most Republicans probably don't even really care all that much about supply side economics.  That's for the small number of people who read National Review.

They do, however, invest a lot of themselves in their national identity.  When someone comes along and tells them that the nation has been brought low, and that he can bring it back, that message will resonate with them.  When he is able to finger scapegoats and blame them for all the troubles of the nation, heads will nod in agreement.  Because of all of the bullshit drilled into us in our youth, appeals to nationalism hit most people right at their emotional core.  While Republicans got emphatic about the tax code but only gave their supporters dog whistles when it came to immigration and Islam, Trump started throwing out the red meat, and the hounds of the Right leaped on it.

Until the pundits seriously try to understand American nationalism, they will fail to understand Trump.  If the Left does not gain an appreciation of how nationalism feeds Trump's popular appeal, they may well lose to him.  That can't happen, so I am going to repeat this message over and over and over again.

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