Trump’s Ethnic Nationalism, at STARTING POINTS

Today I had an article that traces the intellectual(?) genealogy of Trump’s ethnic nationalism throughout American history. It appeared in Starting Points, an excellent new online journal sponsored by the University of Missouri’s Kinder Institute on Constitutional Democracy. This was especially thrilling because I spent two years as a postdoctoral fellow with the institute. Here is a taste of my essay:

The very promise to “Make America Great Again” is a thinly-veiled, clarion call to an imaginary past when the American “nation” was pure—that is, controlled by a racial majority. It reflects a persistent idea that democracies can only function when composed of a racially and culturally homogenous population. And as long as the mantra of “America First” remains synonymous with a mythic and racialized petition for the “First [White] Americans,” there will remain a cultural discord as millions of citizens fight for equal justice, constitutional rights, and democratic liberties. Yet we will not be able to directly and persuasively confront this threat until we recognize its historic and central role to the country’s nationalist imagination.

You can read the whole thing here.

For those interested in the sources that I draw from, here is a quick bibliography. The numbers correlate with the essay’s paragraphs. (I.E., the first points is the footnote for the first paragraph, and so on.) Of course, much of my thinking here directly draws from my forthcoming book.

  1. For this context, see, for example, “The New Nationalism,” The Economist, November 19, 2016; Christina Pazzanese, “In Europe, Nationalism Rising,” Harvard Gazette, February 27, 2017.
  2. For a traditional account of the Age of Revolutions birthing a new, civic-minded form of nations, see David Armitage, The Declaration of Independence: A Global History (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2007).
  3. For the general overview of this nationalist literature, see See John A. Armstrong, Nations Before Nationalism (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1982); Anthony D. Smith, The Ethnic Origins of Nations (New York: Blackwell, 1986); Timothy Baycroft and Mark Hewitson, eds., What is a Nation? Europe 1789-1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. For examples of works that argued for a more civic-based form of nationalism that took root in Britian and then, later, America, see Roy Porter, The Creation of the Modern World (New York: W. W. Norton, 2000); Gordon S. Wood, The Idea of America: Reflections on the Birth of the United States (New York: Penguin Books, 2012).
  4. For the centrality of race and ethnicity to America’s founding political ideals, see Sylvester A. Johnson, African American Religions, 1500-2000: Colonialism, Democracy, and Freedom (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015), 159-208; Nicholas Guyatt, Bind Us Apart: How Enlightened Americans Invented Racial Segregation (New York: Basic Books, 2016); Robert G. Parkinson, The Common Cause: Creating race and Nation in the American Revolution (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016).
  5. Calhoun’s quote comes from Congressional Globe, 30th Congress, 1st Session, 98. For context, see Edward J. Blum, Reforging the White Republic: Race, Religion, and American Nationalism, 1865-1898 (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2005); W. Paul Reeve, Religion of a Different Color: Race and the Mormon Struggle for Whiteness (New York: Oxford University Press, 2015).
  6. Literature on the nationalist imagination is voluminous. The classic overview is Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism, revised edition (London: Verso, 1991). Yet this theory has face criticism and revision on many fronts. For an overview of national imaginations in the post-revolutionary era, see Benjamin E. Park, “The Bonds of Union: Benjamin Rush, Noah Webster, and Defining the Nation in the Early Republic,” Early American Studies 15, no. 2 (Spring 2017): 382-408. For examples of how scholars of race have revised traditional understandings of nationalism, see David Waldstreicher, In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes: The Making of American Nationalism, 1776-1820 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997); Carroll Smith-Rosenberg, This Violent Empire: The Birth of an American National Identity (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010).
  7. For the concept of an “internal enemy” within the American political body, see Alan Taylor, The Internal Enemy: Slavery and War in Virginia, 1772-1832 (New York: W. W. Norton, 2013). For the founding and colonization, see Guyatt, Bind Us Apart. For the FBI and civil rights, see Johnson, African American Religions, 325-376.
  8. For Trump’s imperial racism, see Ta-Nehisi Coates, “My President Was Black,” The Atlantic (January/February 2017).
  9. “Our ticket, Our Motto: This is a White Man’s Country; Let White Men Rule,” Campaign Badge Supporting Horatio Seymour and Francis Blair, Democratic candidates for the President and Vice-President of the United States, 1865, New York Public Library Digital Collections, https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/62a9d0e6-4fc9-dbce-e040-e00a18064a66 (accessed March 2017). For race and reconstruction debates, see Eric Foner, Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution, 1863-1877, updated ed. (New York: HarperPerennial, 2014), 564-601; David W. Blight, Race and Reunion: The Civil War in American Memory (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001), 98-139. For the Civil Rights era and its reaction, see Kevin M. Kruse, White Flight: Atlanta and the Making of Modern Conservatism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2005); Khalil Gibran Muhammad, The Condemnation of Blackness: Race, Crime, and the Making of Modern America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2010).
  10. Matthew Haag, “Steve King Says Civilization Can’t Be Restored with ‘Sombody Else’s Babies,’” New York Times, March 12, 2017. “New Gingrich: We Must Defeat ‘Left-Wing Mythology that You Can Be Multicultural and Still Be a Single Country,” Media Matters, March 22, 2017.
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