Donald Trump gave a notably unifying State of the Union address that didn’t back down an inch from his controversial nationalism.

Rich Lowry mug

Rich Lowry

This doesn’t represent a contradiction, but a step toward fulfilling the political promise of his nationalism, which could appeal much more broadly than to Trump’s devoted base.

A true American nationalism should be grounded in our common citizenship, champion popular sovereignty and exult in our history, culture and ideals. It should the enemy of identity politics. It should be expressed in first-person plural, rather than first-person singular.

It should believe government exists to serve the nation, not the other way around. Or as Trump put it: “Americans love their country. And they deserve a government that shows them the same love and loyalty in return.”

To say Trump has often fallen short of these standards is an understatement. Nationalism is not yelling at rallies, tweeting inflammatory messages or insulting political adversaries. It is an American tradition that runs through Alexander Hamilton, Theodore Roosevelt and Ronald Reagan.

The social psychologist Michael Billig wrote an influential book arguing that nationalism is part of the air we breathe as citizens of modern nation-states. He coined the term “banal nationalism” for the routine ways in which we are reminded of our nationhood — flags, anthems, etc.

“The metonymic image of banal nationalism,” Billig writes, “is not a flag which is being consciously waved with fervent passion; it is the flag hanging unnoticed on the public building.” To extend the metaphor, Trump noticed the flag when other political players neglected it.

Nationalism had always been part of conservatism’s appeal, although contemporary Republicans lost touch with it under the influence of libertarianism, humanitarian universalism and a globe-trotting business elite. For the left, nationalism is a swear word — a small-minded perspective tinged with racism.

This gives Trump running room, and his State of the Union usefully trafficked in banal nationalism.

Trump hailed 12-year-old Preston Sharp for leading an effort to place flags on veterans’ graves, saying it “reminds us why we salute our flag, why we put our hands on our hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance, and why we proudly stand for the national anthem.”

How can anyone disagree, unless he has been cornered into maintaining the opposite out of outrage at Trump’s intervention in the NFL kneeling protests?

Trump said, “As president of the United States, my highest loyalty, my greatest compassion and my constant concern is for America’s children, America’s struggling workers and America’s forgotten communities.”

Is there anyone else’s children who should be his constant concern?

You could hear the teeth-grinding among Democrats when Trump declared, in a reference to the DREAM Act, “Americans are dreamers, too.” The line had all the subversive, common-sense potential of saying, “All lives matter,” when the left insisted it was only permissible to say, “Black lives matter.”

Immigration is such a flashpoint in the Trump era because it is the hot-button domestic policy issue that most directly involves the clash of world views between cosmopolitans (who care most about the interests of immigrants) and nationalists (who care most about the interests of people already here).

Trump took Reagan’s old trope of recognizing exemplary people in the House gallery and stretched it to its maximum possible extent. The speech was almost a long disquisition on ordinary heroes, each illustrating a theme of the speech. It was a long way from “I alone can fix it.”

He ended his speech hailing people from all walks of life, saying that “above all else, they are Americans. And this Capitol, this city, and this Nation, belong to them.”

If he resolved to routinely live up to the sentiments of the State of the Union, he’d do himself and our political culture immeasurable good. Politically, it isn’t Trump the alleged tool of the Russians or Trump the budding dictator that Democrats have to fear most; it’s Trump the nationalist unifier.

Syndicated columnist Rich Lowry can be reached at comments.lowry@nationalreview.com.

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(28) comments

kingman10

“For someone who just declared it was ‘treasonous’ to not applaud him, and for someone who has, in the past, admired the tactics of everyone from Saddam Hussein to Vladimir Putin, it is clear that a military parade isn’t about saluting the military — it’s about making a display of the military saluting him.” - Retired Major Gen. Paul Eaton. So much for your unifying nationalism.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

It's about having the military in place when THE STORM is unleashed. This is not a game. Article III, Section III.

kingman10

wow tell us oh great snow job when is "the storm" coming? Is this Armageddon? Is having a military in place marching in a parade going to save us? OH wise one, tell us what you know. That should only take one or two sentences.

kingman10

OH i forgot to add snow job,
Article IV section IV! there you go, that makes so much more sense.

awol2009

SnowBlob, the Russian bot, what an hilarious mantra of martyrdom you portray of tRumplethinskin. tRump is the most illiterate, unpatriotic tyrant to occupy The Oval Office. If a psychopathic fascist like you had their way, we would have no free speech, no freedom of the press, or any freedom. Heck , we'd be mandated to stand and "clap"( forget BIG words like "applaud" because that's not in Donny's vocabulary range) for every foul delusion that is puked out of his mouth or be charged with treason. Maybe you should get those meds refilled, you'll need them for the bumpy ride ahead when your Fuehrer is led away in handcuffs.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

The scuttlebutt out of DC today is that Mueller will officially be clearing President Trump of any accusations or wrong doing. Trump apparently got the word within the last 24 hours.


President Trump is using current law (including the Patriot Act, Title 10, Title 35, and court decisions such as United States v. Reynolds, 345 U.S. 1 (1953) to take Emergency measures to expose, engage, and bring to justice members of the "deep state" who have engaged in human trafficking, corruption, and treason (Article III, Section III).

You fail to understand actual events or are unable to process the information in front of you. I took the red pill. Enjoy your twisted alternate reality.

[sad]

kingman10

well feb 8 came and went snow job, and no vindication of #45 from Mueller. Isn't that so sad, there goes your less than perfect record on future events right down the toilet. OH the deep state and secret society are just the pits aren't they! I am confident the fuhrer #45 will expunge all who fail to clap at his speech, and only one party will remain and we raise our right hand to salute the man who brought us out of mire of multi culture-ism and tolerance. Enjoy the fourth Reich!

Tim Russell

Do you think we will ever have another President that did a Cameo Appearance in an Adult Sex Movie?

johnnybragatti

Trump is the killer of ANY American dream,
he"ll never get out of this world alive.
Robt. Muller can"t come to the rescue , soon enough.!!!

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

Democrat party is the killer of 60,069,971 American dreams,
Babies never allowed into this world alive.
Jesus Christ can’t come to the rescue, soon enough!!!

kingman10

gee I'm pretty sure republicans choose to have plenty of abortions too. And I am pretty sure its only women who have abortions.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

Under President Trump, Roe vs. Wade will be overturned. FACT!

[thumbup][innocent]

awol2009

tRump saidtoday in a Cincinnati, OH speech, "Democrats that refused to clap for me at my SOTU speech are treasonous!" How fascist is that? Doesn't sound very unifying to me.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

Did you not see how giddy our President was over this? I tried telling you what was happening but you double down on ignorance - article III, section III. Trump was stating a fact that you chose to not see. Why were members of the black caucus caught in HD texting about Trump being shot (Plus other more shocking items) on their cell phones during SOTU? Are they that stupid not to know the cameras can see them - in the clarity of HD?


[ohmy]

kingman10

no I failed to see how giddy #45 was over this. and I bet the big reason I didn't see it is because its not true. Any more lies snow job, I'm sure you've got a ton of them.

The Mouse of Death

[angry]It would behoove us to unify nationalism into one great fascist electric force field like the Sloppy Steve with the KKK Donald and the Lyin' Ted. Sad. Covfefe. Hillary.

awol2009

tRump, the great Divider in Chief is no patriot, period. He will never have the capability to unite Americans with his hateful, combative, divisive nature. Nothing tRump has done is worthy of mine or anyone's respect.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

Donald Trump.....the man who gave up his billionaire lifestyle to be humiliated, ridiculed and slandered, to save the American people.

All time high stock market, GDP growth expected to be OVER 5%, Jobs returning, companies paying bonuses and giving pay increase, tax cuts to ALL Americans, corporations moving money back into America, etc, etc, etc. All as a direct result of businessman and President Donald Trump's policies.

awol2009, you are not worthy of being an American.

[rolleyes]

Tim Russell

Well at least he is an American comrade.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

But I thought I was just a bot - BEEP-BEEP-BOOP.-BEEP...or was a Koch Brothers employee, or a ALEC stooge or was it a paid Scott Walker campaign worker? Now I am a Russian?

Будете ли вы сделать свой ум, что я, прежде чем я начинаю путаться?

Демократам всегда нужен бужеивоман.


[wink]

oldhomey

Has Snow been hospitalized yet? Are the doctors there monitoring her delusional posts on here? Would somebody please check on her? Please keep her away from sharp objects.

kingman10

To save the American people from what? America needs saving from #45. Have you checked the stock market lately? He chose to live in that public office, he should of been ready and grown some thicker skin. Oh but it was alright to ridicule Obama because he was black and might not have been born here. And now snow job is saying who is worthy of being American. Fascism is still alive and well, thanks snow job and #45.

Snow Cougar Mary Burke

Save America from useful idiots such as you. I am thinking by end of Summer, Trump will be known as the 44th president of the United States.

Article III, Section III.

[cool]

kingman10

oh that was a good one snow job! well thought out, very well written, almost caught me off guard,almost. We will see how your dear leader does this year as the walls of corruption close in on him and boot lickers like yourself will be crying in your beer. Keep up the good work for the Koch's and Russians, I hope they pay you well.

oldhomey

Lowry for the past year has himself meticulously listed Trump's dundering dishonesty and crude racist behavior, but now he seems to think Trump has found his way to a gracious new style of leadership, telling us:

"If he resolved to routinely live up to the sentiments of the State of the Union, he’d do himself and our political culture immeasurable good. Politically, it isn’t Trump the alleged tool of the Russians or Trump the budding dictator that Democrats have to fear most; it’s Trump the nationalist unifier."

Right, Richie boy. Refer back to your old columns of the past year and see how much Trump has evolved away from that in the next month or two. Not an inch, I am guessing. The thing the Democrats have to fear is not Trump but their own lack of leadership and ability to find a galvanizing candidate.

Kronosaurus

This is surreal to say the least. After 8 years of hearing them call Obama a divider we get this overt BS? Wake up people. What Trump did in that speech was pure agitprop His supporters like Hannity make a daily point to divide the nation between Liberals" and them. Trump is fully ion board with Hannity's way of thinking. He does not all of a sudden become a uniter because he declares it so. Only a fool and a tool like Lowry would fall for that kind of political theater.

Matt Foley

Introducing all those heroes at the State of the Union is the way trump avoids dealing with the issues that face the country. His "we are all dreamers" and "All lives matter" is his jab of racism that he can not resist. The cheers from the republican wing tells their true stripe.

Clarification

While we all celebrate people who do great things, displaying them for Trump's dog-and-pony show was using them as pawns in his demented masterplan. Does he care about these people? He probably could not recall any of their names five minutes after he read the speech someone else wrote for him to parrot out.

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