The words “patriotism” and “nationalism” have different meanings. So explains Jonah Goldberg, channeling William F. Buckley. This is in the context of an essay criticizing both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. But, for now, consider these two different ways of loving one’s country.
Donald Trump rejects the traditional and legitimate understanding of patriotism in favor of nationalism. These are different things. Patriotism is attachment to the creeds, texts, and ideas of our Founding. Nationalism is a tribal loyalty to blood or soil or sect. Donald Trump is no Hitler, but I’m often reminded that Hitler was fond of noting he was not a patriot but a nationalist. Jay Nordlinger loves to quote Bill Buckley: “I’m as patriotic as anyone from sea to shining sea, but there’s not a molecule of nationalism in me.”
I’ve always slightly disagreed with Bill on this. A nation needs a little nationalism to bind the people to patriotic principles. As Chesterton tells us, the purely rational man will not marry and the purely rational soldier will not fight.
Too much nationalism is poisonous, but as Paracelus said, “Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” Too little nationalism can be as dangerous as too much, because without nationalism there’s no sinew to hold together the bones of the republic.
I’m not prepared to declare the lethality of Donald Trump’s toxic nationalism, but I am fully ready to say that it is dangerously undiluted by patriotism. Donald Trump has no attachment to the Constitution beyond a transactional commitment to say that he likes it when asked — all twelve articles of it. He values will and strength and has contempt for those safeguards that protect us from “leaders” enamored with will and strength. Must we hear him mangle the cliché that the Constitution isn’t a suicide pact one more time?