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Since the nomination of Donald Trump, the Right has been embroiled in an ongoing debate over the correct roles of nationalism and idealism in America’s governing ideology. Our own Nicholas Gallagher, over at National Review, joins in with a piece focusing on the historical tensions between Jacksonianism folk-nationalism and America’s idealistic patriotism.

Despite the problems this causes for our politics, the answer ultimately, Gallagher concludes, must not consist of declaring one or the other anathema, but of working to balance the two:

[T]he evidence of both history and our present moment strongly shows that immigrants themselves are looking to join the folk group, not to abolish it.

In every wave of immigration, vastly more people return home than popular legend acknowledges — as many as half of all Italians in the early 20th century, for instance. Those who stay do so because they love America — both her ideals and her people. Often, they fall in love with a quite literal person: Intermarriage rates are currently the highest they’ve ever been, and on closer inspection this appears to be driven by intermarriage between and among our two largest immigrant groups (Hispanics and Asians) and “native-born” Americans. My Italian-Irish grandparents would be proud. As John Judis highlighted after the 2014 election, this assimilation is starting to seep into the political realm, too, as second-generation half-Hispanic immigrants vote more and more like the general population, just as other immigrant groups throughout history have done. Despite elite left-wing rhetoric saying it’s a dirty word and elite right-wing worries that it’s stopped, assimilation is happening beneath our noses.

The vast bulk of immigrants don’t want to join an ideological commune but a living breathing community — and are in fact doing so. That doesn’t mean they don’t feel an attraction to American ideals, just that in real life, it’s a mix. Think of the soldiers of the Greatest Generation or of this one, immigrant and seventh-generation Americans, fighting both for ideals and out of fellowship with the citizens beside them.

We cannot, in other words, square the circle simply by abolishing nationalism. Nor can it be something we put in a glass box marked, “Break only in case of war.” We need it in our daily lives — but we need to make sure that it’s the right kind. Ditto idealism. There’s a kind of American nationalism that wraps each citizen in a love of, say, the First Amendment because it’s our First Amendment, just as the flag is our flag and the land is our land. This is a much surer guarantee of our liberties — of our ideals — than relying only on those who’ve read Milton and Mill and been convinced by them. There’s a kind of idealism, too, that while it seeks to treat all men as brothers, recognizes the primacy of those men who are our brothers here, whether immigrant or native-born, black, white, or Hispanic, and is careful not to put more stress on our system than it can bear in the name of ideals. Then there’s a nationalism that is insular to the point of denying the Constitution — of defending President Trump’s call to “open up the libel laws,” for instance. And there’s an idealism that is suicidal in its insistence upon itself. The former sorts of idealism and nationalism are plainly preferable, and compatible with one another; the latter are inferior and incompatible — and unfortunately, lately we’ve been getting too much of them.

We recommend you read the whole thing.

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  • Andrew Allison

    You, and Gallagher, are confusing xenophobia with nationalism.

    • D4x

      They are also really confused about “America’s idealistic patriotism”, circa 2017. Today’s ‘idealistic patriots’ want a Tower of Babel with eternal burning of the American flag, and no public display of the Ten Commandments.

      In 1901, “Nativism” was perceived in opposition to “The Golden Door” of open immigration in the USA.
      But, in 1901, most believed assimilation into the melting pot was imperative. THAT is what has been discarded by the faux ‘idealistic patriots’ who believe that human rights must drive America’s foreign policy, or refuse to even consider that the English language is an important unifier.

      • Andrew Allison


        • D4x

          TY, but was still editing, improved clarification. Our English Language War is exhausting.

  • Anthony

    “Peoples and Nations have a habit of thoroughly hating everyone’s nationalism but their own.”

    Reading Post and linked National Review essay, brings to mind that the United States is not homogeneous, and consequently the group question has been both misinterpreted and mishandled (by those inclined to examine it). On top of that, the essay provides a brief outline of American culture and its group problems – yet it implicitly affirms the American political, social, cultural, and historical trends that contribute to the same misinterpretation (illusion) of the Americanization fantasy. In any event, there really remains an unsolved American Identity problem and said reality remains clouded until that ground is clear – it’s not a Creed vs. Nationalism dynamic: America is yet an unfinished product (a process of inter-group cultural fusion) operating under ideals (lofty dreams) conflicting with human tribal dynamics.

  • Angel Martin

    The persistence of Jacksonian folk-nationalism outside Ulster is specific to America.

    Scottish and Ulster Jacksonians were important in Canada’s early history. But they were swamped by later waves of Catholic and third world immigrants, and Jacksonian influence in Canada is completely gone.

    The coastal liberal elite in the USA would like to stamp out Jacksonian influence just like Canada. The mechanism is massive, uncontrolled, open borders immigration.

    It comes down to numbers.

    If you put a kid from whatever country in a boys boarding school, after a couple of years, that kid will dress, talk, act like the rest of the boys.

    If you suddenly bring in half of the students from Somalia – totally different story.

    The second option is what the globalists want to do to America.

    • rheddles
      • Angel Martin

        yup. Battle of the Boyne.

        The IRA raised money in Boston. At one time, Ian Paisley used to come to Canada to raise money.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I don’t see things as divided between “Jacksonianism folk-nationalism” (everyone of those words is a Leftist insult, talk about spinning and bias.) and “America’s idealistic patriotism” (It isn’t American, its Ideals are Leftist, and Patriots don’t revolt against their own constitutional system. This is how Leftists describe their patriotism? Leftist Ideals are not the Ideals of the Enlightenment which uplifted Western Culture, and only stupid people will equate Leftist Ideals with American or Western Patriotism.). But, rather between the Western Culture that created and maintains Modern Civilization, of which American Culture is mankind’s “Bleeding Edge” Culture. And the unsuccessful, even destructive, Leftist Culture, Islamic Culture, and third world tribal cultures.

    A simple survey of the hellhole Nations where these inferior Cultures are dominate, demonstrates how bad these Cultures are in the stark terms of abject poverty and squalor. The destructive nature of these backward Cultures, is brilliantly illustrated by Venezuela. Venezuela was the foremost economy in South America less than 20 years ago, with the largest oil reserves in the world, and it seemed set to stay at the top. Then Leftist Culture became dominate, and now the Venezuelan people are starving, have no medicine, toilet paper, or beer. The Venezuelans do however have black markets, skyrocketing crime, and massive injustice as the “Rule of Law” ideal of the Enlightenment was eliminated.

    This National destruction has occurred repeatedly, demonstrating in scientific fashion through repeatable experiments, that these Cultures are recipes for creating hellholes.

  • FriendlyGoat

    The present political climate including the narrow win for Trumpism has very little to do with Jackson, Jackson’s time or Jacksonianism. It’s totally silly to search for explanations in another era which lacked ANYONE who had then seen the remainder of American history up to the present date (including knowledge dramatically expanded about nearly everything in existence). Rather, several other dynamics are much more relevant in explaining our current state of affairs. We need to be speaking of Trumpism and ditching the time waste on Jackson, who no one today can relevantly understand anyway (because no one alive now was there.)

    The win for Trumpism was an electoral accident at best, and an electoral heist at worst. The margin in three key states was remarkably tiny, easily attributed to several questionable effects, and not a majority of voters anyway. So Trumpism actually has no actual mandate, but does have the cloud of an investigation. The more the president now speaks of that as a hoax against him, the better. The more Republicans, themselves, fracture on these shoals, the better. Health care is a test. Budgets will be a test. Tax code destruction looks less likely even if the market has not caught on yet. The egregiousness of GOP statehouses has probably already peaked

    Meanwhile, the most brainwashed supporters of Trumpism appear to remain in the evangelical community—-the folks who triggered the electoral accident (or heist) in the first place. They are truly enjoying imagining they can fly the bird at most of the rest of the world, at issues such as climate change which are not going away, at people not white and at political correctness on any subject whatsoever. We have to hope that this big of a desecration of Christian faith is temporary.

    • Isaiah6020

      When Trump wins in 2020, I’m going to laugh at you so hard!!!! Your TDS is complete. You have an internal universe built on begging the question logical fallacy.

    • Tom

      100,000 votes is a “remarkably tiny” margin?

      Also, again, the alternative to Trump was Clinton. I realize that you believe that the cultural zeitgeist regarding the Sexual Revolution is Biblical, but 80% of American evangelicals disagreed with you.

    • Anthony
      • FriendlyGoat

        Betcha that you and I can identify the most prominent voting bloc in American society at this moment which would back Trump in his 2015 episode with Lauren Batchelder and diss her (and her whole class of concerns) instead.

        Is it men as a whole? Is it white people as a whole? Black/brown people? Is it the rich? Is it the poor? Is it the old? The young? Is it the highly educated? Is it the poorly educated? Is it white collar? Is it blue collar? Is it metro people? Is it rural people? Or is it a certain flavor of religious people who will celebrate a very big rich man slapping at an 18-year-old girl because they are quite sure they are Godly and she’s not.

        We need to start thinking in terms of WHO enabled the ayatollahs of Iran?
        Who enabled the grab by Erdogan in Turkey? Who keeps Putin in power as head of Russia? And who slipped Trumpism into the USA? Now, who can get rid of it?

        • Anthony

          “Norms are entirely up to us – they exists only as long as there’s a consensus, even unspoken, to preserve them.”

          To your second paragraph, it may be too simplistic to cast about for any specific explanation for directed loathing (but norms, propriety, decorum, even “old fashioned manners” are needed by both a nation and its institutions). On the other hand, it’s not TDS to point out “norm defying” behavior – giving the middle finger finger to the status quo as some are inclined to rationalize – as deleterious to country’s social/institutional health. You do well in making such distinction here, and many find it appreciative – your faith that our norms of government have meaning and deserve to be sustained.

          To your last paragraph, culture, history, circumstance, opportunity, epoch, all (and many other factors I’m sure)play a part. Getting rid of man’s inhumanity to man has given rise to our revered Religions. They have not gotten rid of it. But, the question must not bedevil rather than spur inquiry (ies0, as you’re doing here today. Conscientious inquiry with intent to help make intelligible how the enabling you ascribe comes about is a beginning addressing the last question (for the inclined).

          • FriendlyGoat

            I’m gonna stick with concentrating on what I think tipped us into Trumpism. While the professionals (such as at NY Times) describe and bemoan the loss of the “norms”, I’m gonna keep pointing to who we were supposed to be able to trust in knowing what norms even are.
            We’re supposed to be able to trust the faith community. But right now we can’t. In Russia or in America. It let us down badly and there is no return to sense until that reverses at least a little bit. Call me crazy like some guy on a street corner with a sign, but we don’t get out of this mess until a sufficient number of people understand that we might pray for Donald Trump in general—–but not for God to protect him and Russian colluders from investigation (as is now in vogue).

          • Anthony

            Both actions are not mutually exclusive and that you know. We need sincere protagonists in both sectors. No, you are not a crazy man (many degrees removed from such attribution). Praying for him definitely but conflating prayer with secular intention, no way. Stay at it, my friend.

          • FriendlyGoat

            We have to remember we have freedom of speech to write things into comment sections which cannot “get past” publishers and advertisers, and things which might cause a pause in the minds of professional writers with long-term reputations to worry about. I don’t harp on the religion-in-politics aspect to be mean. I just do it because 1) It strikes me as our most probable social culprit producing the chain of ongoing modern astonishments, and 2) I can—-when so many of them can’t.

          • Anthony

            I’m not the least bothered by your religion-in-politics. Regarding your noting writing accessibility via comment section, moral certainty about one’s views or a willingness to indulge one’s emotions makes it easier to assert that online perhaps. However, I trust you do not limit your effective speech (writing) to comment section only. That is “I can when so many of them can’t” must be utilized wherever ambient.

          • FriendlyGoat

            Some of higher-level professional writers who thought they couldn’t touch the religion angle of the election may be re-thinking their position. My highest and best use would be planting some little seed wherever it might take root in a better or more-widely-read writer. And, of course, this writing for me is just a hobby (or maybe addiction, who knows?)

          • Tom

            My highest and best use would be planting some little seed wherever it might take root in a better or more-widely-read writer.

            Who will then proceed to get it wrong.

    • Angel Martin

      “The margin in three key states was remarkably tiny, easily attributed to several questionable effects, and not a national majority of voters anyway. So Trumpism actually has no definable mandate,… ”


      Bush won Florida by 500 votes and was President for eight years.

      • FriendlyGoat

        Indeed. Without a mandate for 2001. Which means the other side still gets to breath air and be alive. We are. And we’re always about half of the country.

        • Tom

          One wonders when you will extend that same courtesy to your opponents.
          Oh wait…never.

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