by Drew Scott ‘20
In October, President Donald Trump said something that confirmed what many of us already knew about him. He said, “A globalist is a person who wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much… We can’t have that. They have a word, it sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist… You know what I am? I’m a nationalist”.
This is distressing for a number of reasons, as the word, “nationalist” isn’t one to throw around lightly. One reason this is troubling is the meaning behind the word itself. Nationalism is putting your country before all others, and believing that your country is more important than the rest of the world. Most people can understand why this is a damaging idea to have, as it hampers foreign relations and trade, but it can also give leeway for racism and xenophobia. Trump has basically identified himself with a word that is associated with, “bigot,” “racist,” and “xenophobe.”
Another reason his use of the word is distressing is how others use it. After 9/11 and leading up to and through Trump’s election, the United States has seen a huge rise in far-right nationalism. The New York Times reports that from 2001 to 2017 over 71 percent of extremist- related fatalities were committed by right-wing nationalists. These nationalists, often called the Alt-Right, have fallen in love with Trump’s brash demeanor and charged speeches. Now, this isn’t to say that all those who support Trump are Alt-Right nationalists, but it is safe to say that the vast majority of Alt-Right nationalists are big fans of Trump. Many of those at the Charlottesville Unite The Right Rally were bearing not only Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” but swastikas and Confederate flags as well.
Most people understand that being/being compared to a nationalist is bad, but does the president? While he certainly holds nationalistic views, does he know how much weight the word nationalist holds? For him, it may just be a synonym for patriotic. But for others, especially in other countries, this can be a serious red flag, and make people trust and like Trump even less.
But the worst thing about this situation, and about the Trump Administration in general, is that people use it as an excuse. Neo-Nazis can bear swastikas and hateful slogans and feel safe because Trump is in office and appears to be ignorant of their greater motives. People can call the police on black people just for standing around because they think they can get away with it. Arguably the worst thing about Trump calling himself a nationalist is that so many others will feel justified to do worse because the president is one of them, and at this point, they may be right.