Saturday, April 20, 2024

On A More Perfect Civic Nationalism

The namesake of this great corner of cyberspace and I have been debating this topic in mostly agreeable fashion the last few weeks. We both agree that American life needs a civic and communitarian rebirth. It is the absence and need for civic nationalism that brings us to this issue but where we differ (or do we?) comes from whether we believe the project could be a success and how it could be a success. 

One might think my proposal for an alternative would focus intently on America's demographic makeup, especially the pre and post-1965 immigration and naturalization act which for the first time opened up America to basically everywhere in the world through the same rule of law, specifically of federal immigration law. The 1980s brought us one round of amnesty which punted the issue of illegal vs. legal immigration down the road another few decades not unlike the compromises in the 19th century did for slavery and the southern states economic dependence on that system. Slavery was both a moral issue and a practical political question of who is an American citizen? The former was solved by the bloodiest war in American history, including a slain president. The latter goes back to the founding itself and animates our politics and culture to this day.

What does it mean to be an American? Can anyone who raises their hand be an American? Right now we really have the worst of all worlds. In that people are coming over our border illegally either as economic migrants or taking advantage of our asylum system and Joe Biden's open invitation, receiving and draining resources, and worse, many of them have no intention to become Americans. Now they may stay here for some time. If the Democrats get their way, they'll all be voting one day. Yet even if that occurs they do not have intentions of becoming Americans because the animating force of the left and mainstream Democratic Party even is that America is merely an "idea" and immigration law is a poem on a statue. 

Against these odds and this scope, civic nationalism, even if aggressively pursued through the family, through education, has little chance of success.

But merely rewinding the clock back to a pre-1965 America, even though many immigration law changes can and must be made, is not feasible either as that America is gone. Instead, what may work is considering our times of crisis a "fundamental time for choosing" between two differing and ultimately incompatible visions of America. If we are led by wise and prudent people, we may just avoid the major wars of the prior crises at home and abroad. 

In this existential struggle for a 21st century United States of America we have Obama's vision of "America as an idea" that is both placeless and atomized into various identity groups around race, sexuality, and gender identity, where "our democracy" just keeps existing somehow around a vague set of slogans like "diversity is our strength" and the "rules-based", "liberal world order", or in their eyes, around a set of political ideas like the rule of law, due process, equal protection of the law, and so forth. The problem with this vision is the slogans barely exceed the impact of a hashtag trend and in the past decade Obama's party has deeply undermined all of the political ideas that people agree to make up "America." Simply put, there is no genuine effort to get new people whether they are called illegals, new arrivals, migrants, criminal aliens, or what have you to become Americans in a political sense of the word. In addition to the fact that politics is downstream from culture anyway, Obama's vision of America is simply not going to work and is already dead on arrival outside the coastal corridors of power who do not have to live with the consequences of their own ideology usually. 

What could work is admitting that America needs a common culture. Needs a monoculture. And this culture is reinforced by what largely already has taken place and takes place that works. First off, a common language. Americans speak English. That is our common language and 4 out of 5 Americans speak no other language than English. While just like with religion, accomodations are made for those who do not, our daily realities reinforce a majority American culture. The customs and norms that flow from this common culture are the basis to build a new monoculture. Obama's vision of multiculturalism doesn't fail because it's diverse and people cannot get along, broadly speaking -- people can get along and America more so than any nation has this history. Rather, his vision of multiculturalism is failing because a common American culture already did exist. 

America also does not exist just anywhere because of a set of political ideas and foundations. America was founded in a specific place, by people who shared a common language, a common religion with only denominational exceptions, and common ancestors. From that core beginning a political union was then established and that founding period was both an experiment in self-governance and also the most extremely well-thought out and deliberate attempt to form a more perfect political union in human history. In this sense, America is a miracle. However, it is also a miracle that happened at a place of peace with incredibly blessed geography and natural resources to be cultivated. The land of hope between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is some of the most fertile land of abundance and possibility on planet Earth. 

This fact should have informed American humility abroad, that while our ideas and nation are indeed exceptional, it would be difficult to merely repeat this elsewhere in other lands with greater historical burdens, inferior lands for cultivation, or areas that lack common language, ancestors, and customs. 

This is why people were so harsh when Obama was so cavalier about American exceptionalism. It was one of the few times where our nation's 44th president truly showed his cards. Another, was a "fundamental transformation" of the country that was so vague that it could be interpreted as anything from getting US troops out of Iraq and focusing on the home front or if you're a post-national progressive, you could read all of your hopes for transforming the system you do not like to your mind's imagination and heart's desire. 

Barack Obama will not be the last articulator of his vision, but he will be the last one who is successful at it. The gloves are off now, and the progressive view of the future is now utterly exposed as unworkable. 

And Donald Trump will not be the last articulator of the alternative vision, rather, I suspect he will have a Wilsonian role to play in the establishment of a new political era. And that era must build and stress a one nation cultural Americana just as much if not more than it stresses a civic nationalism. 

Next Article(s):

On Economic Nationalism and Reindustrialization 

In Defense of the 1950s 

Changing the Culture Will Mean Staking Out a New Counter-Culture First 

Troy M. Olson is an Army Veteran, lawyer by training, and co-author (with Gavin Wax) of ‘The Emerging Populist Majority’ now available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Target. He is the Sergeant-at-Arms of the New York Young Republican Club and co-founder of the Veterans Caucus. He lives in New York City with his wife and son. You can follow him on X/Twitter, Instagram, and Substack at @TroyMOlson.


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