For a brief moment, I considered writing directly about Rep. Steve King’s comments on immigration and such, but the hog wrassling factor is simply too high. Nevertheless, some of the punditry surrounding those comments lead me to a few observations about this constellation of topics.
Nationalism vs. Patriotism: In yesterday’s Commentary magazine podcast discussing King’s comments, Abe Greenwald called nationalism “patriotism on the cheap.” I wouldn’t put it quite that way, but it is a close companion point to my prior observation that the Left’s efforts to marginalize or purge Western Civilization at colleges and universities (and a similar effort to convert our already poor K-12 civics curriculum to left-wing activism) also made conservatism shallower.
Multiculturalism: The rise of simple nationalism on the non-Left is thus at least partially attributable to the rise of multiculturalism on the Left, and especially with the New New Left. Although the immigration debate is far too complex to be reduced to a single point, the axis of “assimilation vs. multiculturalism” is certainly key.
As a country, we ought to be able to reach a point between the melting pot and the salad bowl that’s a nice dish of gumbo; historically that’s where we have tended to meet. America still tends to be pretty good at assimilation, though we still have notable issues even with the second generation of, for example, Muslim-Americans.
Unfortunately, are there things about the Left’s approach that tend to make compromise difficult, if not impossible. Some of these are often discussed, such as the Left’s (premature at best) reliance on the Emerging Democratic Majority theory breeding the suspicion on the Right that the Left would like an amnesty for a generation or two of political benefit. But today, let’s keep things at a higher altitude.
Multiculturalism and Transnational Progressivism: Multiculturalism, and the New New Left’s adoption of intersectionality as a functional religion, are closely related to the Left’s overarching vision of transnational progressivism. Although I am not a fan of comparing the Brexit vote and the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan of “Stronger Together” was an obvious lift of the Remain campaign’s “Stronger in Britain” slogan.
This school of politics is built on a contradiction.* On one hand, it seeks to present a Utopian vision of unity that spans all demographics. On the other hand, it is a politics built around conflicts based on the fundamental racial, sexual, religious, generational and cultural elements of people’s identities.
This contradiction is probably reconciled only through totalitarian means (thus the appeal of intersectionality), which is why many rebel against it.
Accordingly, the Utopian facade is maintained primarily by making the campaigns for this vision largely empty. In the Brexit fight, the Remain campaign asked people to be solely focused on economic factors. Hillary Clinton ran a largely policy-free campaign on television after going months without facing the media.
Say what you will about nationalism, it taps into powerful cultural and emotional wellsprings that are naturally intended to unify one group against all others. In contrast, the emotions tapped by left-wing identity politics are specific to each demographic, and each demographic is atomized by intersectionality.
Thus, while transnational progressives still hold the levers of power in many places, they may have difficulty fending off the nationalist appeal over the medium term. Indeed, as noted, transnational progressivism and multiculturalism are built on the types of conflict which invite and fuel nationalist politics.
In their post-election angst, American progressives who previously disdained concepts like the separation of powers and federalism as the old, dysfunctional ideas of dead white males seem to be giving these concepts a second look. If they were being more than situational, they might find in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution a patriotic and universalist vision that may be more competitive with nationalism.
Unfortunately, that won’t happen, because progressivism ultimately requires unlimited government power. And progressives are more likely to attempt to coopt the nationalists’ white identity politics than reject their own.
*[This contradiction is not the only one between progressivism and multiculturalism, but it’s the one most relevant here.]
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