Nationalism often — not always, but often — asks us to disregard those moral considerations, or at least to quiet them a little bit, to place a higher importance on defending the integrity of arbitrarily drawn borders than we do the lives of people trying to escape inhumane situations. Nationalism tends to divide humans into “us” and “them” and tells us “they” are worth less. Frequently — and Trump has based his entire political persona on this idea — it tells us that “they” are probably bad people. Why? Mostly because they’re not us. How do you get to be us? Well, it’s all kind of an accident of birth, really. At best, it’s absurd. In many cases, nationalism is simply racist.
The nice-guy nationalists advocate a rather bloodless view of nationalism’s benefits, but the history of the last century, with its wars and genocides, provides plenty of evidence that nationalism can turn very bloody, indeed. Still, it probably is utopian to think we poor humans can get very far without organizing along national lines. And “Morality Is Complex and Transcends National Lines!” is a poor riposte, politically, to the pithiness of “America First!” This column isn’t going to win any elections.
The caravan keeps advancing north. So what to do? How do we balance the benefits of nationalism — and the legitimate obligation to protect our citizens and their well-beings — against the need to look out for our neighbors beyond our borders?