President Trump has once again given the news another field day when he unapologetically embraced the title of “nationalist” at a rally in Houston, Texas on Oct 22. Trump was immediately scorned by many on the left as well as moderates for using the term. Dissenters, like New York Representative Gregory Meeks, were quick to compare the President’s claim of nationalism with Hitler’s status as a nationalist.
While it’s true Hitler was a national socialist, Trump’s comment was taken out of context since he wasn’t talking about white nationalism or white identity, but rather using the word in an American, patriotic sense. A president or any leader of a country should be a patriot of their own nation, as it is their sworn duty to protect the interests of their own citizens. While Trump made the comment in the spur-of-the-moment, as is his fashion, the President of the United States claiming to be an American nationalist and patriot is not a negative trait, since the leader of this nation should put our interests above other nations.
First, nationalism and patriotism are, in fact, the same thing. An article from USA Today made the claim that nationalism is not patriotism. They assert Trump’s comment was more indicative of growing racial tension within the country. However, if you Google the term patriotism, the first synonym listed is nationalism. Nationalism is defined as “identification with one’s own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations” whereas patriotism is “devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country.” The only difference between the two words is nationalism is colloquially associated with a more negative connotation, whereas patriotism is arguably less so, but otherwise they are in practice the same. So, the assertion made by some that nationalism and patriotism are inherently different is simply false.
Secondly, Donald Trump has been advocating for “America first” policies since he was a presidential candidate. He campaigned on strengthening national security by promising to reform the immigration system, particularly “chain migration” and building a wall at the border with Mexico. Trump promised to bring back jobs to Americans, especially the working-class, and to grow the American economy. Establishing America as a strong nation on the world stage was also an important part of his campaign, and now his presidency has shown him fighting for more autonomy from the UN and tougher trade policies. Additionally, Trump promised his supporters to leave agreements between nations that did not have American interests at heart, like the Iran Deal and the Paris Climate Accord. In short, Trump claiming to be a nationalist in a patriotic sense should not come as a surprise to anyone when appealing to this sentiment placed him in the Oval Office. Putting American citizens’ interests before other external actors is what any American president should practice.
However, with nationalism, there is a point where things can be taken too far. When any leader of a country regards their interests as so important that they exclude or harm the relationships with other nations, that behavior begins to stir resentment and conflict between our country and other nations.
My main criticisms of the Trump presidency deal with his foreign trade policies. Trump and his administration have been very critical of the United Nations, and rightly so, but this in turn has created strain with main other Western nations, particularly England and Germany, which could create possible unforeseen consequences in the future. Additionally, the trade war with China is to sanction the nation for not pressuring North Korea, their closest ally, enough. Consequently, this has put a strain on many American farmers and industries, like pork and soybeans, which has created some domestic resentment for the administration. If not resolved quickly, this could be especially damaging to Trump in upcoming elections since much of his base is the working class and he promised a stronger American economy and employment. While American nationalism and patriotism is more of a strength, there is always a fine line.
Overall, American nationalism benefits all Americans so long as it’s not taken to its extreme. When the country’s economy, employment, military, world standing, etc. do better, all American citizens benefit as a result. Insinuating President Trump’s comment at the rally as him meaning “white nationalism” is extremely disingenuous and ruins the objective credibility of the people or institution reporting that spin.
Though every political figure has their share of radicals and extremists supporting them, President Trump is not a white national or white identitarian like Jared Taylor, Richard Spencer, or James Allsup. While America is not perfect, President Trump claiming to be an American nationalist and implementing policies to better the lives and interests of Americans is inherently a good thing for this country and its people.
Rebecca Rinaldi is a fourth year Criminology, Law and Society major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.