If the labels associated with the recent violence in Virginia are any indication, White Supremacists have gone in for a name change, preferring to call themselves White Nationalists. That the group should attempt to re-brand itself is understandable; however, the reasoning behind the new distinction isn’t nearly as apparent.
After all, nationalism has a checkered history at best. As an organizing principle in a finite world, it has proven far from perfect, giving rise to deep-seated animosities that, during the past century alone, have been largely responsible for two world wars and hundreds of lesser conflicts.
The tendency of nation-states to engage in endless wars of dominance was not lost on the European settlers of the North-American colonies, many of whom fled their homelands to escape such conflicts. Indeed, the freedoms they experienced in the New World would become a driving force behind the American Revolution, which, among other things, served to redefine the concept of nationhood. By embracing peoples of all nations under a uniform system of self-government, the newly-created United States in effect embarked on a radical experiment in nationlessness.
No one at the time knew if the experiment would work. While the Founding Fathers conceived of their new creation as a beacon of hope for the world, others gave the new country little chance of survival. Without the glue of cultural identity, the common man, they reasoned, could not be expected to rise to the challenges of self-government, and would inevitably succumb to old prejudices.
At a time when such prejudices are being routinely encouraged and exploited by a palpable fraud masquerading as a successful businessman/politician, it remains to be seen which prediction will prove true. All we as Americans can say with any certainty is that it has always been the mission of our country to realize the vision of its founders. All we can do is insist on the bedrock principles they espoused: equality, fairness and justice under the law.
Trump’s attitudes toward immigrants, women, minorities, and anybody who happens to disagree with him have long been called out as the essentially un-American and un-presidential traits they are. That he and his followers would seek to justify their behavior under the banner of nationalism only reveals how little they know about this country and what it stands for.