The fraying of a shared common national identity is a threat to both the conservative project of restoring constitutionally limited government and the progressive crusade for a more robust national welfare state. Both goals rely on a level of solidarity, community, and mutual trust that is in short supply in contemporary America, as we have fragmented into red states and blue states along with a host of other identity-politics subgroups. “Such political cohesion is rare in arbitrarily assembled human populations,” writes Hazony.
A nationalist politics that seeks to shore up that identity would not be illiberal in any meaningful sense of the word. It need not be racist or collectivist in economics. A political coalition that includes all Americans who are uncomfortable with the current pace of change and perceive themselves to be losing out from globalization has the potential to reach a larger constituency than Democratic liberalism does today or than the mainstream conservative movement has since Ronald Reagan handed over the keys to the Oval Office to George H.W. Bush.
We caught a glimpse of this in Trump’s improbable victory—a man as polarizing and flawed as this president was able to win, however narrowly, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin, prying these industrial states away from the Democrats for the first time since the 1980s. It is also evident in some of the common threads between Jesse Jackson’s two presidential campaigns in the 1980s, TAC founding editor Patrick J. Buchanan, then former California Governor Jerry Brown and Texas billionaire Ross Perot’s in the 1990s, Ralph Nader’s in the 2000s, and both Trump and Bernie Sanders’s in 2016. That no one has yet united these voters doesn’t mean it can’t be done.