Identity-group politics now poses a growing challenge to national consciousness. It emphasizes what divides Americans over what unites them. In its angriest forms, it goes so far as to deplore what unites Americans (the idea of America and what it stands for) as so much hypocrisy or self-delusion. This least-compromising form of identity-group politics is self-defeating. It attacks the social solidarity that success will demand — the sense of obligation that Americans feel toward their fellow Americans.
The debate over immigration shows how easily the bogus distinction between nationalism and globalism can distort these conversations. Maybe pure globalists see no distinction between foreigners and fellow citizens, and dream of open borders. Good luck with strengthening the welfare state if that dream ever comes to pass. Everybody else thinks the difference matters.
At one extreme, to be sure, are bigots who think that foreigners are bad because they’re foreigners. In the wide middle are people who believe that immigration hurts U.S. citizens and should be curbed, or helps U.S. citizens and should be expanded, or helps U.S. citizens so long as other things are done, or is good for the U.S. so long as the immigrants accept those founding principles and assimilate — or who aren’t sure about any of this but at least believe that the laws on immigration ought to be enforced. A very wide range of views, but all the people in the middle agree about this one thing: The interests of fellow citizens come first.