Wednesday, July 29, 2020

We Need Nationalism--The Right Kind of Nationalism

My colleague John Halpin is out with a new piece on the Democracy Journal website, "Why We Need Inclusive Nationalism". I strongly recommend it. Note that I and another colleague, Peter Juul, will shortly be publishing an article--"Toward the Next Frontier: The Case for a New Liberal Nationalism"--in the American Affairs journal (on or about August 20) that sounds many of the same themes.

Some excerpts from Halpin's article--but please read the whole thing.

"America faces enormous challenges at home and abroad that our political system is ill-prepared to handle. Mired in compounding health, economic, and social crises arising from the coronavirus pandemic—on top of years of broken politics, widening inequality, and growing threats to liberal values around the world—our nation needs a common vision for renewal that speaks to all Americans. We need an inclusive American nationalism, in opposition to Donald Trump’s reactionary and exclusionary nationalism. We need a new framework for economic and social reform that takes seriously our constitutional promise to build “a more perfect Union” and to secure the rights, liberties, and opportunity of all people post-COVID....

As the nation confronts this crisis moment, we need to ask ourselves: “What comes next? What should Americans do to successfully rebuild, repair, and reshape our economy and society for the betterment of all people?” As difficult as it may seem given current political divisions, national renewal after the crisis will require our people and leaders to temper their ideological battles and try to forge a spirit and agenda of collective action committed foremost to American economic and social strength.

Unfortunately, American politics under President Trump is stuck in a cycle of mutual recrimination and division with no comprehension or even acknowledgement of what constitutes the common good for America in a time of crisis. President Trump’s model of racial and ethnic nationalism coupled with tax and regulatory policies tilted toward the wealthy and powerful will not hold. There have been too many failures and too many contradictions in his approach and no longer enough public support to maintain his populist right framework of politics outside of a particularly fervent base. But getting rid of Trump alone won’t solve our problems. Activists, intellectuals, and political leaders need to develop and promote an alternative philosophical vision grounded in the best ideas from the left to the center that is wide enough to enlist all Americans in a common project of national rebuilding....

Politics works best for the country when it provides legitimate institutional arenas for reasoned debate and common endeavor and compromise. It loses credibility when it descends into a never-ending series of cultural wars designed to force people who think differently to acquiesce to abstract sociological theories about interlocking webs of oppression and privilege or angry “us vs. them” social media fights targeting and reducing people to racial, ethnic, or religious categories. Rather than helping citizens better understand actual forms of discrimination and barriers to success for all people, these culture wars leave people confused, divided, and without tangible plans for improving the situation. Americans don’t need to fully adopt the worldview of critical studies to understand that deepening wealth inequalities and diminished job opportunities and health conditions for low-income people across racial lines undermine our national economic strength....

With national attention again turned to police accountability following the killing of George Floyd and those in other communities, we must not let this moment again turn into a series of rhetorical battles and media fights between mostly unaffected political elites that fail to fundamentally address the basic economic inequalities underlying many of these injustices. A framework built on liberal nationalism instead seeks to offer a way for disparate Americans with divergent cultural values to recognize these economic inequalities and be part of a common effort to steadily bring all people into American life based on the core American principle that all people deserve equal dignity, rights, and opportunity....

Americans who think [this way] should join in a common effort for national renewal and start building a network of engaged citizens committed to building a new politics that can help our country emerge successfully from this crisis. This is not an easy project given the structure of American government. No one ideological approach alone is likely to build and sustain state and national majorities durable enough to overcome the multiple veto points in our constitutional system. Liberal nationalists must therefore work strategically to knit together large majorities of voters across racial, class, and ideological lines to back steady improvements that lead to higher pay for workers, more secure families, true universal health care, a revitalized national economy, and smarter international action.

We must not lose hope that Americans of all stripes can work with one another—and those in other nations—in good faith on big challenges. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt stated in his famous Four Freedoms address in 1941: “This nation has placed its destiny in the hands and heads and hearts of its millions of free men and women; and its faith in freedom under the guidance of God. Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them. Our strength is our unity of purpose.”

As usual FDR said it best.

Trump offers reactionary and exclusionary nationalism. There is a different, and better, kind.

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