The recent troubles with Iran highlight the problem with America First nationalism: it would mean placing the interests of regular people at home before transnational “interests” like foreign wars that have no bearing on middle-American life. Put another way, real people living in a real country with real interests of their own have a real problem with really stupid government and the real Stupid Party, otherwise known as the Republicans, that enables bad government while pretending to stand against it.
Americans generally have no desire to see the blood of their children spilled on the altar of the foreign policy establishment. Not so “democracy” can be spread around the globe, whatever that means, and certainly not so that sovereign states may be compelled into “acting like a normal country,” as Secretary of Defense Mark Esper has said of Iran—not least of all when “normal” is defined by a government that provides millions in taxpayer funds for abortion and to inject children with puberty-suppressing, opposite-sex hormones, rendering them permanently infertile.
“Normal” is denouncing the destruction of invaluable cultural sites by ISIS, such as the ancient Roman structures in Palmyra, an act explicitly intended as a rejection of nationalism—then claiming it is somehow different when we threaten to do the same. If Notre Dame had been deliberately burned to the ground by the Danes in anger, would it have been less of a loss for civilization, than if it had been razed by the Saudis?
Not until every country in the world has become so “normal” as to offer SWAT, FBI, and U.S. Marshall protection for drag queen story hour, it seems, will Esper sleep soundly beneath his rainbow quilt. Concerned mothers around the world beware.
“Normal,” as defined by the government and the self-appointed experts of the academic and think-tank class, is the imperative of keeping America in the Middle East in the name of “stability,” while doing nothing about growing instability at home. Democrats in Virginia have threatened military action against law-abiding gun owners and police who resist mass disarmament. They’ve even increased the state’s corrections budget in anticipation of putting gun owners and cops who refuse to enforce gun control behind bars. Meanwhile, the very “normal” Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms recently announced that it will include a non-binary gender option on firearm purchase forms.
“Normal” is playing up failed states as existential threats, all the while, as Wayne Isaac wrote in these pages, “drug trafficking in America by Mexican and Chinese nationals and mendacious pharmaceutical players like the Sackler family kill Americans on a scale no Islamic terrorist group could even dream of achieving.” Qasem Soleimani’s body count is, in fact, dwarfed by the number of Americans killed by the Sackler’s opioid profiteering. Of course, Soleimani wasn’t clever enough to ally himself with the American Enterprise Institute and Purdue Pharmaceuticals.
And finally, when an Oklahoma family returning from Mexico is attacked by gunmen just south of Texas for merely driving on the wrong highway and their 13-year-old is murdered, and this elicits nothing more than tough talk and condolences from the same government that just the other day threatened annihilation against a country on the other side of the globe for less, you will know that you have arrived in the Elysian fields of a very “normal” regime.
The New Normal
Last month, before our government found another pretext to flirt with “normalizing” the world, Kim Holmes, the executive vice president of the Heritage Foundation, observed correctly, if unhappily, that nationalism suggests a real people identifying with a particular place, language, religion, culture, and ethnicity.
This is the stuff not easily reduced to a “universal creed” for the consumption of immigrants and foreign countries in need of becoming at once “normal” and partaking in “American exceptionalism,” as our government and luminaries understand it.
If America was a real place where nationalism could take root, it might resist internationalist imperatives to “normalize” the world by the sword. If America was home to a specific religion, thus a particular set of mores, the little people with pitchforks might come for the ruling class that has foisted on them, against their faith and will, abortion, same-sex marriage, and gender ideology.
If this country had a specific language, Americans might be able to induce immigrants to speak it without having to fear the federal lash of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which has actively worked to outlaw George Washington’s native tongue since its inception.
A country with a specific culture would not tolerate the destruction of its historical monuments, the renaming of its streets after minority “heroes,” the plowing under of its traditional art, literature, and tastes in favor of strange “diverse” ones. Perhaps it is because our government cares so little for our culture that it makes no bones about reducing culture elsewhere to ash.
If America were based entirely on abstractions, people like Holmes wouldn’t have to try so hard to avoid serious discussion of Federalist 2. They would not have to ignore Benjamin Franklin, when he asked “why should Pennsylvania, founded by the English, become a colony of aliens,” who “will never adopt our language or customs any more than they can acquire our complexion?” Or Hamilton, when he warned that diverse immigrants “tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities.”
If America were just an abstraction, Holmes would not have ignored what was, in effect, our first immigration law and why it limited naturalization to “free white person[s] . . . of good character.” It seems we owe it to serendipity herself that America was more or less culturally and ethnically homogeneous from 1790—when the national character was 80 percent British, 60 percent ethnically English, and 98 percent Protestant—right up until the Hart-Cellar of 1965 that abolished all national origin, race, and ancestry bases for immigration in the name of being “normal.”
Sure, America’s Founders could believe in natural right and still exclude or include anyone—on whatever basis—as a rule, while still making exceptions. The Founders understood that people from wildly disparate cultures could only assimilate under certain conditions. It happened then, and under the right conditions, it can still happen today.
But, as a practical matter, it was and is unlikely to occur without limits on immigration. As equal citizens exercising their consent, the founders had the right to establish the parameters for immigration and naturalization in their time in line with what they thought prudent—just as we had the right to change them later and have the right today to reconsider those changes. In seeking to determine what is actually prudent, we might look to the founders, rather than a caricature of them, for wisdom and courage in navigating the issues of our time with eyes wide open.
The real problem with nationalism, the kind that President Trump campaigned on, is that it offers true and therefore intolerable normality in a clown world. It is normal to want to stay out of foreign wars, to preserve your religion, language, people, and culture.
And it was telling that Tucker Carlson, that nationalist gadfly, invoked the ire of so many conservative intellectuals when he called the president away from war, away from escalation, demanding that Trump hold to the things he campaigned on in 2016—which altogether were taken as America First nationalism.
It has been the purpose of government since before I was born to engineer the conditions for nationalism out of existence, and the role of the ruling class—Democrat and Republican, liberal and conservative—to gaslight Americans into accepting the new “normal.” Nationalism threatens to explode the myths that “normalize” immigration, fruitless foreign wars, the deracination of the American people, and the disintegration of their culture.
And that kind of normal just won’t fit the clown shoes.