This is an argument of political necessity and moral urgency. So far, Democrats haven’t made it. Instead, in much the same way that they gave up the word “liberalism” in the 1980s, they’ve gotten skittish about the word “nation,” as if fearing that to use it means descending into nationalism.
This election’s presidential campaign slogans include Joe Biden’s “Our Best Days Still Lie Ahead,” Pete Buttigieg’s “A Fresh Start for America,” Kamala Harris’s “For the People,” and Andrew Yang’s “Humanity First,” not to mention “Win With Warren” and “Amy for America.” (Julián Castro’s “One Nation. One Destiny.” is the exception.) For sure, it can be dangerous to talk about the nation. But it’s more dangerous to cede the idea of the nation to make-the-nation-great-again nationalists.
What is the liberal case for the nation? Nation-states are people with a common past, half-history, half-myth, who live under the rule of a government in the form of a state. Liberal nation-states are collections of individuals whose rights as citizens are guaranteed by the government. The United States is a liberal, democratic nation held together by the strength of our ideas and by the force of our disagreements.