My contention is that nationalist politics will be an eruptive force in the life of Western democracies. These movements and politics emerge when the normal sense of national loyalty — the peace that exists between neighbors living under a shared law in a shared territory — becomes disturbed or agitated. War or irredentist claims can bring out extreme forms of nationalism. We have “national conservatism” because the irritants are serious, but not so extreme. America has undergone or is undergoing several trends that bring nationalist passions to the surface of politics: rapid urbanization, mass immigration, and some social dislocation that is related to economic globalization.
The projects that nationalism would take on in this environment might include promoting respect for America’s endangered traditions, providing a vision for an American nation that includes and assimilates the last great wave of immigration, a vision that restores democratic accountability in politics on issues of trade and citizenship. That is, a conservative nationalism would seek to help all Americans, of new and old stock, to feel at home in their country and with each other.
What we have instead in the contretemps between Trump and “the squad” is continuing polarization and mutual alienation. Three of the four congresswomen whom Trump criticized were born in the United States; they have no other “place from which they came.” The other is a refugee who has every legal right to demonstrate her immoral lack of gratitude for the country that adopted her and elected her to federal office. A president who had a nationalist’s sense of purpose would enjoy the privilege his office affords, of claiming to be the elected leader of all Americans, regardless of color, creed, or party affiliation.