In his essay published in The Week magazine, self-described “liberal” Joel Mathis ponders the question, “Has nationalism killed compassion in America?” The piece is an unintentional tribute to Ronald Reagan’s famous quip, “It isn’t so much that liberals are ignorant. It’s just that they know so many things that aren’t so.” Follow along, and you’ll see what I mean. My remarks are in red.
By Joel Mathis
There’s been some heavy lifting lately, in the non-Trumpist precincts of our politics, to rescue the idea of “nationalism” from the clutches of President Trump and his alt-right followers. Lest liberals and progressives be tempted to throw the baby out with the bathwater, we’re reminded in books and essays that nationalism has its uses — forming the glue that provides us with social cohesion and a welfare state, among other goods. These “nice-guy nationalists” make good points. There’s just one problem: America’s best-known nationalist is the president. And he’s not much interested in social cohesion.
In the interest of time I’ll leave aside the bizarre claim that “a welfare state” is one of the benefits of nationalism in order to focus on the even stranger claim that it is Trump who isn’t interested in social cohesion. Ever since Barack Obama emerged on the national political scene the Left has perfected the devious art of projecting their own sins onto the opposition and then attacking them for it, and this notion that it is Republicans in general, and Trump in particular, who divide us is one of their most cynical projections. Statistics show that race relations began their steep decline under Obama, the predictable consequence of Obama intentionally stoking racial tensions (“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”) Moreover, who could plausibly deny that the entirety of the Left’s political strategy is vested in the politics of division when Democrats are continually pitting minorities against whites, women against men, poor against rich, and when it’s become the Left’s norm to openly disparage “old, white men?” While the Right promotes the melting pot, the Left promotes multiculturalism, yet history proves that social cohesion fails when immigrants reject assimilation or embrace the Left’s nurturing of perpetual victimhood.
“You know what I am? I’m a nationalist,” Trump declared Monday night in Texas. “Okay? I’m a nationalist.”
To get a sense of what this means in Trump’s hands, it’s good to take a look at the so-called “migrant caravan” currently marching north from Guatemala to the United States border. From the accounts of people on the ground, it appears this caravan is composed largely of people fleeing deprivation and violence in their home countries. It’s the sort of thing you or I would do if our families were similarly endangered; ardent nationalists have decided to treat these fleeing families like an invading military.
“An assault!” Trump told told the Texas rally.
“Migrant hordes,” writer Rod Dreher blogged at The American Conservative.
Even The Associated Press got in the act, calling the caravan a “ragtag army of the poor” in a tweet that was later deleted.
But the people forming the caravan are not an army. They aren’t seeking collectively to capture land or dislodge governments. They are merely individuals seeking a better life and traveling in the direction they think most likely to help them find it.
“Treating this as an ‘invasion’ is a bad idea, and it’s going to end horribly if it is treated such as that way,” an independent voter said Monday on Fox News, and that’s perhaps the most sensible statement made on any cable news network this year.
Parents sometimes refer to medicine as “candy” to entice their children to take it, and this psychology is not lost on the sly Left when they try to manipulate their way past our natural defenses by insisting that we not call things what they really are. Illegal aliens are “undocumented,” insists the liberals in the Orwellian speak that we’ve become accustomed to. And now an invasion is not an invasion. It’s just an innocent, happy parade of people wanting a better life. I might prefer to live on the French Riviera but I don’t gather 13,999 of my friends and march on France. The U.S. has a process for considering applications for asylum. Purposefully ignoring that process in a calculated effort to take advantage of loopholes in our immigration system and create chaos at our border is what makes this an invasion, and Democrats – always the useful idiots – are cheering it on.
Nationalism may provide us with social cohesion — and that’s good — but it is also a garment best worn lightly. That’s a tricky, perhaps impossible, expectation: In many cases, nationalism asks us to disregard our own moral sense in favor of group loyalty.
Morality tells us that when people are hungry, we offer them food.
Morality tells us that when people flee violence, we offer them protection.
Morality tells us that all humans are worthy of moral consideration, no matter their origins or circumstances.
First, morality tells us that when you are hungry or need protection you don’t break down the door and help yourself to what others have worked hard for. You knock on the door and politely ask for help, at which time it is the homeowner’s right to determine whether your need is genuine and whether you are an innocent victim or just looking for an easier way at someone else’s expense. In America we call that respecting the rights of others, and that is the moral thing to do. Another moral tradition we once had in America was to reject the evil temptation to falsely impugn – for political gain – peoples’ motives by coyly suggesting that ethnicity or financial status is the reason for their objection to thousands of people marching on our border. Never mind that this charge is rich coming from people who’ve popularized the denouncement of “old, white men;” it is the rejection of U.S. sovereignty and U.S. law that’s inspired Trump and conservatives to condemn the “caravan,” and it is Mathis himself who stoops to immorality by using the group’s shared ethnicity as an excuse to pull the tired, old race card. By the way, wouldn’t you love to know how many poor, uneducated, non-english-speaking immigrants are included among Mr. Mathis’ close circle of friends?
Nationalism often — not always, but often — asks us to disregard those moral considerations, or at least to quiet them a little bit, to place a higher importance on defending the integrity of arbitrarily drawn borders than we do the lives of people trying to escape inhumane situations. Nationalism tends to divide humans into “us” and “them” and tells us “they” are worth less. Frequently — and Trump has based his entire political persona on this idea — it tells us that “they” are probably bad people. Why? Mostly because they’re not us. How do you get to be us? Well, it’s all kind of an accident of birth, really. At best, it’s absurd. In many cases, nationalism is simply racist.
There it is again of course – the race card. The truth is, Trump has based his political persona on the concept of putting America first. Not white America. Not black America. Not male or female America. Just America. You can see it. You can feel it. It’s palpable, and his focus on treating the country as a whole, rather than dividing us into subgroups as the Left always does, flies in the face of these trite accusations of racism. Is he nationalistic according to its real definition? Yes, in the sense that he wants to promote our interests and our culture. There’s nothing wrong with that unless you’re a leftist mired in the standard creed of loathing America. As for “arbitrarily drawn borders,” one could say that the borders of Mr. Mathis’ property are just as arbitrarily drawn, yet that doesn’t mean he wouldn’t fight for them if necessary.
The nice-guy nationalists advocate a rather bloodless view of nationalism’s benefits, but the history of the last century, with its wars and genocides, provides plenty of evidence that nationalism can turn very bloody, indeed. Still, it probably is utopian to think we poor humans can get very far without organizing along national lines. And “Morality Is Complex and Transcends National Lines!” is a poor riposte, politically, to the pithiness of “America First!” This column isn’t going to win any elections.
The caravan keeps advancing north. So what to do? How do we balance the benefits of nationalism — and the legitimate obligation to protect our citizens and their well-being — against the need to look out for our neighbors beyond our borders?
In the short term, you can treat the caravan like what it is — a collection of needy, dispossessed humans fleeing dire circumstances — instead of as an invading army to be met with force. Instead of cutting off aid to the caravaners’ countries of origin, let’s figure out how to help them, now, where they are, before they get to our border. Difficult? Sure. Worth it? Probably.
In the long term, the United States can consider how its policies may actually create the refugees it so desperately wants to reject. U.S. policies, for example, helped create the circumstances that allowed the MS-13 street gang to flourish in Central America. Maybe we should do less of that kind of thing?
In the same vein, perhaps Trump — who needs to serve American interests — might come to understand he does not best serve an “America First” vision with his preferred “we-win-you-lose” deals with our allies and rivals. America’s security and prosperity can best be enhanced by assisting the security and prosperity of people around the world. It’s that vision, not some utopian altruism, that has guided much of the postwar world order that Trump seems ready to undo.
The migrant caravan is still hundreds of miles from the American border, but it’s not too late to seek constructive solutions. Right now, though, it’s the regular nationalists — not the nice-guy kind — who are running the show.
What intrigued me most about this piece was the headline asking if nationalism has killed compassion in America because I see things quite differently. I think it is liberalism, not nationalism, that’s killing compassion in this country. Liberals tell us that instead of teaching a man to fish so that he becomes self-sufficient that we must fish for him whether we want to or not. We get no say in determining whether the man is capable of fishing for himself. If he has no fish, that alone, we are told, is proof that he is entitled to our fish. And if we have the nerve to point out that perhaps the man was napping rather than fishing or that he refuses to learn to fish, well then we are racists who should not be allowed to speak.
We are told that our borders are “arbitrary,” that the people who come here by the millions to use our schools, or hospitals, our roads, our police, our courts and who – by virtue of evading the system – sometimes bring crime and disease, just want a better life. Our own desires for a better life are of no consequence. Conservatives’ accounting for the hundreds of billions of dollars illegal immigration costs Americans are dismissed as “lies” by the Left, while they refuse to engage in any truthful accounting themselves. The actions of the Left with respect to illegal immigration engender feelings of powerlessness in those of us who believe that we are entitled to have a say in the immigration policies of our nation, and who believe all our laws should be enforced, not just those that are convenient to the Left. To whatever extent compassion is dead in this nation, THIS – this political game-playing with our laws and immigration policy – THIS is what has killed it. Turn the mirror around, Mr. Mathis, and take a good, long look. This is what you and your leftist friends have wrought.
One last question for Mr. Mathis and any liberals who happen to read this:
Have you considered the moral implications of what happens now to the people truly in need of asylum after you’ve made such a mockery of our generosity? No? I thought not.