Trump is not a nationalist

The president says it's all about "America first," but really, it's all about him

President Trump.
(Image credit: Illustrated | NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images, Brosko/iStock)

At a Houston rally last year, President Trump made a proclamation: "You know what I am?" he asked. "I'm a nationalist. Okay? I'm a nationalist."

But Trump, we know by now, is a prolific liar, and even this statement has been proven to be a falsehood. Sure, he's for strong borders, strong exports, and bringing American manufacturing home from overseas. But on Wednesday, Trump told ABC's George Stephanopoulos he is fine with other countries — Russia or China in particular — jumping into the 2020 race on his behalf. Oh, he might call the FBI this time. But he would still take advantage of the situation.

"I think you might want to listen, there isn't anything wrong with listening," Trump told ABC News. "If somebody called from a country, Norway, [and said] 'we have information on your opponent' — oh, I think I'd want to hear it."

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The president claims to put "America first." But in the most important sense — defending the integrity of this country's governance and elections from foreign interference — the man is a good old-fashioned globalist. There is no such thing as a "sh--hole country" if Trump himself is the beneficiary; the president will do business with anybody willing to help him profit, personally or electorally.

Anybody who has read Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on Russian election meddling, or saw the president in action during the 2016 campaign, knows this already: Despite his "no collusion!" protestations, it is clear that Trump and those around him welcomed Russia's efforts to steer that election away from Hillary Clinton.

Nothing has changed.

It's usually pointless to highlight Trump's hypocrisy: In just about every phase of politics and business, it's clear the man believes there is one set of rules for him and his friends — that is to say, almost no rules at all — and another, much stricter set of rules for pretty much everybody else, especially his rivals. You could say Trump is fond of double standards, except it is clear there is a single standard at work: Whatever gives him the advantage in the moment is the standard that Trump uses. And so, this administration has treated us to a parade of golf weekends and swampy behavior with near-impunity.

But Trump's false pose as a nationalist might be the most infuriating thing about him.

The man doesn't just promise to "make America great again" — he literally hugs flags. He proclaims that "America first" is his guiding philosophy, despite that phrase being historically problematic. He came to political prominence by pushing a false theory that former President Obama wasn't really an American. And he represents a party that has worked fervently to own the very concept of American patriotism for decades.

He's a nationalist right up until the point when the Russians come calling with dirt on a Democrat. Then, instead of "America first," it's "Trump first." This philosophy guides his every move: Evidence suggests that he has used the Oval Office to benefit and expand his family's overseas business and properties. At home, he's used the international stature of his post to host summits at his Mar-a-Lago club, and the Trump-branded hotel in Washington, D.C., is suddenly a favorite of foreign ambassadors. Then there's the problem of foreign workers at his properties. There are no limits, it seems, to what the president will do to put money in his pocket.

All of this is galling particularly because it's so dangerous: Trump's brand of nationalism has inspired a new and deadly surge of open white supremacy in this country; we were better off and safer when most racists had to pretend they weren't. And while Trump's fake nationalism poses a risk to the country, so does his authentic, if twisted, brand of globalism: His interview with Stephanopoulos may well have served as a welcome mat for countries around the world to jump into America's electoral process.

Making matters worse, Trump's party has decided to follow his lead. There are plenty of bipartisan bills out there designed to protect elections from outside interference; the GOP-held Senate is where they go to die.

The president's blend of public nationalism/personal globalism is the worst of all worlds. It makes the country meaner, while undermining the citizenry's faith in the legitimacy of our governance. The only thing it benefits is Trump. That's not so great for America.

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