Abraham Lincoln once said: “My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of earth.” Donald J. Trump’s Inaugural Address offered us exactly the opposite vision, one of a selfish, insulated America responsible only to itself, committed only to fixing the supposed “carnage” here but unconcerned about global poverty, Earth’s deteriorating environment and ecosystem, and human rights here and everywhere. He made all the usual, and unfulfillable, promises about jobs, terrorism, and corruption—and avoided all the problems he has always avoided, such as health care for all, equal opportunity for all, his own record of irresponsible behavior, and “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind.”
President Trump doesn’t understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism. Charles de Gaulle did: “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.” Trump’s “American First” doctrine was falsely presented as the former when it clearly is the latter. Putting America first may sound like a noble patriotic idea, but in reality it reflects a careless, ultimately dangerous world view. Walling America off from Mexico, keeping out Muslims fleeing war and oppression, denigrating China, and undermining our European allies have nothing to do with love of country. These promised policies exemplify narrow nationalism of the sort that will reduce respect for the United States and undermine national security.
“There are seasons in every country,” Alexander Hamilton said, “when noise and impudence pass current for worth; and in popular commotions especially, the clamors of interested and factious men are often mistaken for patriotism.” This is such a time, and Donald Trump is such a man.