Trump’s Nationalism Won’t Fix Our Problems

Elizabeth Bruenig writes:

This is the real state of our union, the condition of our collective us-ness: The very idea of America lies wounded, too compromised and discredited to support anything like a vibrant civic nationalism or a vast loyalty to ideals such as liberty and justice for all. Confidence in American institutions — from the criminal justice system to newspapers to Congress — is scraping along historic lows. Trust in political leaders and the ability of other Americans to make sound democratic decisions is likewise historically low. As of December, only 18 percent of respondents to a Pew Research Center survey said they trust the government; even President Richard Nixon never saw numbers so grim. The bad news goes on. Some 71 percent of Americans think the economy is rigged, and they’re right. Compared with citizens of other liberal democracies, Americans hardly bother to vote. Freedom feels more and more distant, less and less satisfying.

You can feel it, an aching in the ether. And all the old, familiar specters that arise to greet this kind of national disillusionment have come again: ethnically inflected nationalism, scapegoating, a vague and general sense that danger is looming. President Trump has tapped into the nationalist response to our current malaise largely because there was no widespread sense of civic trust strong enough to hold him back; “Tonight, I want to talk about what kind of future we are going to have, and what kind of nation we are going to be,” Trump said during his address, “All of us, together, as one team, one people, and one American family.” He went on to promise “a government that shows [Americans] the same love and loyalty in return,” in part by enforcing “immigration policies that focus on the best interests of American workers and American families.” The distinction between immigrants and Americans could not have been more clear, despite the fact that the categories overlap hugely; it’s a classic nationalist feint, creating thick borders between us and them so that we will feel more like an us….

Trump’s methods won’t work; his approach won’t fix it. Instead, innocent people will be injured, and the same forces that already control our lives — the criminal greed of the rich, which can at any time crush entire economies, as in 2008; the whims of markets and corporations, which can arbitrarily dislocate you from kith and kin; the corruption of politicians by all of the aforementioned, leaving us without any hope of protection from the vagaries of the moneyed few — will still control them. And the same void, the same absence of vision and paranoid nihilism that cleared Trump’s path to the Capitol, will gape wide and wider.