Donald Trump's latest campaign shakeup has gone in an unexpected direction. When Trump elevated Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon to campaign CEO, it was widely understood as a double down on the racial politics of something called the "alt-right." Yet the promotion of Bannon and new campaign manager Kellyanne Conway has instead been followed by increased minority outreach. Trump has taken a softer tone on his signature issue of immigration to woo at least some additional Hispanic support. He has begun regularly expressing concern about poor and working-class blacks in his new stump speech, replacing awkward references to "the blacks" with "African-Americans." Trips to black churches are reportedly in the works.
All of which begs the question: Has Trump realized that racial polarization was a mistake?
Unfortunately for the Republican nominee, his efforts to cast himself as a colorblind American nationalist are probably too little, too late — as Hillary Clinton will surely say in a planned speech tying Trump to white racists. And Bannon really is not the best person to draw a bright, red line between a patriotic appeal to all Americans as Americans and less inclusive forms of nationalism.
But a different candidate who ran the campaign Trump is only now attempting would be onto something. It really is possible to have an American civic nationalism that unites citizens of the country across a variety of racial and ethnic backgrounds.
Not all nationalism is "alt-right." Often applied to Trump supporters, that term has come to be used to describe something closer to a white American ethno-nationalism. If not personally racist, many of its adherents at least believe it is important to erode taboos against racism or make whites less fearful of violating them in order to more forcefully defend group interests against nonwhites.
But there are a lot more people who believe in American borders and sovereignty than there are anonymous social media users posting racist Twitter memes. People who see their country as more than an abstract ideological construct and who think that its government has an obligation to keep their interests in mind when legislating on immigration, trade, or foreign policy.
In the introduction to Pandemonium: Ethnicity in International Politics, the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D-N.Y.) quoted Walker Connor defining a nation as "a group of people who believe they are ancestrally related. It is the largest grouping that shares that belief."
First, note the word "believe." It is possible for people who aren't technically ancestrally related to believe that they are. Trump endorser Rick Santorum, the descendant of Italian immigrants and defender of immigration restrictions past and present, believes he is as American as anyone who can trace their ancestry back to the Mayflower. Nation-states can break apart if the people, regardless of actual lineage, do not share that belief.
Second, family is a constructive way of distinguishing healthy and unhealthy nationalism. You love your family because it is yours. Your family members' accomplishments and strengths may enhance your love for them, but they are "exceptional" to you in the first place because those familial bonds exist.
Your love for your family does not require you to hate other families, to view their members as inferior, less than human, or undeserving of rights. It certainly does not require you to fight with other families or take over their homes. A person who believes their love of country requires them to hate others has a concept of family similar to the Hatfields and the McCoys.
Families are obligated to take care of their own, but this does not entail treating members of other families unjustly. A mother or father who abandoned her or his own children to take care of others would generally be regarded as shirking their duties. That doesn't mean they must never help anyone outside the family, however.
Individuals can enter families by marriage or adoption. Most don't regard inbreeding as a pursuit of purity that will build a master family.
A family that recognizes the importance of its bonds and the humanity of others is functional. A family that can't or won't do these things would widely be regarded as dysfunctional.
Not everything is always so cut and dry. People make mistakes, however sincere, all the time in the name of family, country, and every other important human institution.
There are millions of people on the left and the right, in the United States and elsewhere, who believe the governments of their nation-states are no longer living up to their familial duties. If responsible political leaders do not address their concerns, these voters will turn to more noxious nationalists — like Donald Trump.