My nationalist friends have told me repeatedly this season that I should stop talking about “conservatism” because American values are the key to rejuvenating our society. They see patriotism as a promising foundation for solidarity, because it is both idiosyncratic (Americans already have our own unique history and traditions), and shared by all of our citizens.
It’s a happy thought. How realistic is it, though, in a nation deeply polarized by widely divergent visions of the good? In the best of circumstances, historically rooted traditions must to work hard to avoid becoming ossified or blindly nostalgic. These are far from the best of circumstances.
The Trumpites must grow up quickly if they are to transcend the more tribal elements of the last year’s campaign, and make themselves into a governing force that all Americans can respect. Liberalism was often deeply hypocritical in its claim to value inclusion and tolerance: Barack Obama’s promise to be “a uniter” is laughable in retrospect. Still, as nationalists step into our key governing roles, we have to ask: will they even make a pretense of valuing inclusion and the democratic process? If they do, will their core base reject them? If they don’t, what kind of future does the GOP really have?
Perhaps we could eventually achieve a fruitful fusion of the new nationalism and older strains of conservative thought. But if we can’t, may we confront a future of endlessly warring identity groups, squabbling over resources and social space?