In an age of individuals, when many people have never felt a deep and abiding sense of duty to something external to themselves, it is only too easy to be dismissive of a collective good such as nationalism, or to simplistically equate it with “white supremacy.” For many of us today, the state is merely something that enforces laws and to which we pay taxes. Beyond those necessities, it has no claim on us.
Now this is another way of saying that our fellow citizens have no claim on us. Of course, given the boundless egoism of human nature—the natural desire, in other words, to exert our will and advance our interests in every situation—such a belief is quite appealing to many. And yet, there are serious consequences for this notion of the state. Treating our country as nothing more than a business—the crude approach of the left and mainstream conservatism alike—destabilizes our relations with fellow citizens. Where there should be solidarity, there is division. And in time, the many who do not gain from open borders and global capitalism make their resentments felt. They elect men like Donald Trump, for example, now the most hated man in America.
Trump-bashing—an incessant activity, and a kind of industry for the largely contemptible intellectual class—has been particularly virulent this week, because the president announced his plan to end birthright citizenship by executive order. Whether he actually has the power to do so is unclear. Senator Graham said he will introduce legislation to end birthright citizenship. Even if the Republicans don’t lose their congressional majority in next Tuesday’s midterms, as they well may, passing such a law will be difficult. It’s good for the right, though, that if the Supreme Court were to hear a challenge to a law restricting birthright citizenship, the right has a 5–4 majority.
At issue here is the 14th Amendment. It reads:
All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
With respect to the interpretation of this amendment, I agree with Michael Walsh. Says that acute writer:
That the 14th amendment—the centerpiece of the Reconstruction Amendments passed and ratified under the Johnson and Grant administrations, but proposed and voted in by the Radical Republicans in Congress—applies specifically and only to the newly freed slaves is clear not only from its historical context, but from its very language.“Although he is no scholar or intellectual—an excellent thing in politics these days—President Trump has sound political instincts.”
The key phrase is “subject to the jurisdiction thereof.” The Court later ruled, in the Wong Kim Ark decision (1898), that children born to foreign diplomats, or born to enemy soldiers occupying U.S. territory, were not protected under the 14th, as they were clearly not under American jurisdiction. (Neither were American Indians, until 1924.) But then, neither are illegal alien invaders, who openly proclaim their contempt for American immigration law even as they march toward our southern border.
Nevertheless, the business interests of both parties are well served by birthright citizenship, the donors and interest groups to which both are answerable wanting the cheap labor. Democrats, moreover, want the voters. But the American people, who suffer for the same reason that the economic elite profit from excessive low-skill immigration, feel otherwise; and indeed, that is why they elected Donald Trump.
Trump’s hard-line stance on immigration is one aspect of his general nationalism. Since a liberal, in Robert Frost’s words, is “a man too broadminded to take his own side in a quarrel,” we should only expect the left to equate Trump’s nationalism with “white supremacy.” What’s rather unfortunate is that Trump’s nationalism is so often opposed by the right, or rather, the phony right that is neoconservatism. Representative here is Jonah Goldberg’s Oct. 30 article in National Review, “Why Nationalists Should Worry about Trump’s Nationalism.” After conceding that there is some value in nationalism, Goldberg proceeds to undermine his argument:
As a political matter, Trump is making “nationalism” the creed of his base and his biggest supporters. In other words, he’s now doing to nationalism what many of us worried he would do to conservatism: make it an ideological appendage of his own agenda and his own cult of personality. As someone who cares more about the integrity of conservatism than nationalism, I’m rather glad for it. But if I were a committed and decent-hearted nationalist, I’d be getting prepared to do a lot of clean-up work.
This reduces to: Trump’s nationalism is bad because it’s Trump’s. Perhaps Goldberg is right. The problem is that he provides no substantive support. He simply asserts that Trump’s nationalism is “an ideological appendage of his own agenda and his own cult of personality.” Such laziness may work for Goldberg, a globalist shill who holds the aptly named Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute, but for serious minds it won’t do.
The character of Goldberg’s mind—his amusing combination of intellectual obtuseness and moralistic conceit—is well evidenced by the sentence: “As someone who cares more about the integrity of conservatism than nationalism, I’m rather glad for it.” One is reminded here that, in his latest book, Goldberg claims nationalism entails “the suicide of the West.” But historically, conservatism has been nothing if not nationalistic. The reason is simple and clear: If I am an American conservative, the good I seek to realize and conserve is not the Mexican or French or Chinese good, but the American one, what is best for me and my fellow citizens.
You may think this is insufficiently generous to foreigners. In response, I would encourage you to take a close look at how people really are, to recognize the ordinary limits of human affection. Nor should one assume that putting America first entails hatred for non-Americans. The common charge doesn’t follow, just as I don’t hate my neighbors simply because I give preference to my friends and family. Similarly, the nationalist is not necessarily indifferent to the sufferings of foreigners. He knows, however, that resources are finite, and that what we do for foreigners must be weighed against our primary duty, which is to fellow citizens.
It is rather ironic, though characteristically clueless, that Goldberg should name his book after James Burnham’s 1964 book of the same name, because Burnham railed against the very left-wing views that Goldberg espouses under the name of conservatism. Goldberg’s idea of “conservatism” involves spreading “universal human rights” and democracy—by war, if necessary. Now from an historical point of view, this is the very antithesis of conservatism. But despite his scholarly pretensions, Goldberg is oblivious of intellectual history, and so he does not scruple to condemn a major conservative figure such as Joseph de Maistre. You see, unlike Goldberg and other lefty utopians, that great French writer didn’t believe in a universalist human nature, nor did he advocate democracy and human rights. Indeed, he detested them. Goldberg is entitled to his opinions on de Maistre, but it’s false and no service to his readers for him to say, as he does, that the man is an enemy of conservative thought.
Goldberg tells us what he would do if he were “a committed and decent-hearted nationalist.” This is nothing but his usual sentimental preening. As we have seen, he is ignorant of what both conservatism and nationalism are. His game is to repackage yesterday’s leftism as today’s conservatism, and to that careerist end he affects to be righteous, in this respect just like Ben Shapiro, Bill Kristol, Max Boot, Rich Lowry, and other neocon pretenders. Again like them, Goldberg is allergic to all nationalism but Israeli nationalism. While such gross hypocrisy doesn’t justify anti-Semitism, nobody should be surprised that these men are frequent targets of that evil.
Although he is no scholar or intellectual—an excellent thing in politics these days—President Trump has sound political instincts, in no small part because of his decades in New York City’s ruthless real estate market. Owing to his administration’s policies, the country is better off today than it was two years ago. If they were actually conservative and for the national good, Goldberg and his ilk would commend that. Yet they aren’t, and in their desperate attempt to stay relevant, all they can do is align themselves against the Trump administration, and thus the common good it represents.
Last Saturday’s tragedy in Pittsburgh has been the other big source of Trump-bashing this week. An anti-Semite named Robert Bowers charged into a busy synagogue and opened fire, killing eleven people and injuring six others. Even though Trump is the most Zionist of any American president, with Jews in his own family besides, he has nevertheless been widely blamed for this.
The arguments here are beneath consideration. What’s interesting is that whenever something awful happens in America, people call on Trump to denounce it, as if unless he does so he must condone the evil. This facile binary logic reveals the truth about his critics. Calling attention to whatever Trump has not done is really just a pretext for them to indulge their hatred for him and their will to punish, all in the guise of righteousness, of course. Trump’s critics want us to believe they are good people. In reality, they are mostly a wicked mob—intellectuals by no means excepted.