Published 2:07 PM EDT Oct 25, 2018
President Donald Trump is facing criticism for stating during a rally in Houston, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word.”
Nationalism is not patriotism
My wife’s family arrived on the Mayflower, mine on a steamer from Russia at the turn of the last century. But holding up our infant daughter’s right hand to take the oath of citizenship for her in the U.S. Consulate in China upon her adoption was among the most powerful moments of our lives.
President Donald Trump recently called himself a nationalist. Let’s not mince words: Nationalism is an ugly term pulled from the 1930s meant to incite fear and loathing toward the more than 40 million people living in America who were not born here. My family, along with millions and millions of others across this diverse land, are not nationalists. We are patriots.
We believe in the American dream, of hard work, of having a real shot of meeting your potential regardless of your circumstances, and of welcoming and accepting others who come from different places to contribute to the success of this amazing country. That’s what America is about.
Talker: This isn’t America. Political terrorism is not a partisan issue
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It is no coincidence that Trump is making nationalism and the fear of immigrants a top campaign issue. Nativism and hatred of the other has always been part of his strategy to divide and conquer the electorate. The latest, of course, is his focus on the migrant caravan, now in Mexico, filled with people who are fleeing persecution, hopelessness and death for something better. There are many aspects of our immigration system that deserve a robust national debate, but insinuating that asylum seekers are criminals and terrorists is antithetical to who we are as a nation.
If Americans are reminded that nationalism is not patriotism, and is in fact the very opposite of patriotism, Trump’s vile play for votes will fail. No political party owns the attribute of “patriot.” But if in the face of a Blue Wave election, Trump and House Republicans continue to play the nationalism card, they just might cede it to Democrats.
Jim Kessler is senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a centrist think tank based in Washington, D.C. You can follow him on Twitter: @ThirdWayKessler.
What our readers are saying
Reader comments taken from Facebook:
Wow! The president admits that he loves America and thinks America is the best country in the world. Better impeach him for that.
— Gil Fidler
True nationalism is at the expense of allies. True nationalism says even if we need to detrimentally impact another nation, we should if we benefit. He said a lot more than you allude to. Nationalism is hard to keep moderate, but then again Trump is hardly the most extreme nationalist history has seen. He’s surely not a moderate, though.
— Matthew Farmer
Sorry, but “nationalism” is NOT what we need, if it looks like what Trump is selling. Quite frankly, a brand of nationalism that thinks sexism, racism, classism and elitism are just fine isn’t what we need right now. What we need is more civility, mutual respect and dignity, and less partisan political dogma
— Michael Anthony Shea
There was nothing wrong with national pride, except for a few, until President Barack Obama came along. He did everything he could to divide our country. We need to unite our country and come together in unity. Pass laws that are good for all of America, not just one segment of society.
— Lois Harrold
What others are saying
James S. Robbins, USA TODAY: “President Donald Trump’s patriotic appeals are controversial only because hating America has become so deeply embedded in progressive thinking. But if our nation is to survive, it must have a national narrative that seeks not to blame but to inspire, not to divide but unite, not to demean but uplift.”
Jennifer Rubin, The Washington Post: “(Trump) knows exactly what (nationalism) means, his base knows exactly what he means, and he knows the strongest bond with followers is xenophobia. Immigration and bogus issues such as the caravan are his go-to topics when he needs to juice up his followers. … He fuels divisions and anger, and in doing so, fails in his most sacred obligation — to defend the most diverse democracy the planet has ever known and to protect the institutions that secure our freedoms.”
EJ Montini, The Arizona Republic: “Do you think it’s just a coincidence that bombs are sent to former President Barack Obama, to Hillary Clinton, to liberal philanthropist George Soros, to the New York office of CNN and to others during a week when Trump has been ratcheting up his race-based, fearmongering conspiracy theories and calling himself a ‘nationalist’? Trump feigns ignorance about the word, but he must know it rings like a dog whistle in the ears of every white supremacist and racist in the country, if not the world.”
To join the conversations about topics on USA TODAY, email [email protected], comment on Facebook, or use #tellusatoday on Twitter.
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