Trump-era nationalism is about 3 percent policy and 97 percent aesthetics, rhetoric, and affectation, a kind of identity politics of the Right. That is one of the reasons why critics such as Tucker Carlson (also a hit at the NRI event—you should have been there!) have so much trouble describing in meaningful terms what it is they want. They are well-versed in who is to blame, but a little vague on what to do. This fundamentally aesthetic orientation also is one of the reasons for the nationalist bias toward that which is easily visible and comprehensible: steel mills, not logistics, “Made in China” labels on consumer goods in Walmart, not integrated supply chains, software, or intellectual capital. It helps to explain the bumptiousness, narrowness, and pettiness so closely associated with nationalism as it is in fact currently practiced, in situ, as opposed to in essay form—a politics not of love and community (including community with future generations) but one of resentment and anxiety. Not manifest destiny but the melancholy long withdrawing roar. The associated variety of politically proprietary patriotism has its obvious counterpart in the adolescent and often unserious anti-patriotism of the Left, which is why we have expended so much spittle in a national confrontation over sporting-event etiquette.
The military parade offers a display of uniformity (literal uniforms) to a nation that has struggled with its diversity, a dramatically visualized and sacramental unum in the face of all that messy and incomprehensible pluribus. Flags, monuments, chants, songs, marches, ceremony—all are efforts to wring the unum out of the pluribus. The Left’s program, for the moment, is to stand in the middle of all that with two raised middle fingers while simultaneously sobbing and demanding money.