There is much to disagree with in Donald Trump’s interest in nationalism. In his version of it, nationalism is a fragile egotism applied to the affairs of state. This approach has, like the president himself, created problems out of whole cloth before “solving” them. Regarding trade and defense agreements with our long-standing allies, we seem now always to be in some phase of this cycle.
But it was a little rich to hear French President Emmanuel Macron during the WWI armistice centenary observance on Sunday scold Trump on the evils of nationalism. Before an audience of world leaders gathered in Paris, Macron connected the European nationalisms that presaged the Great War to the nationalist posturing of the American president.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism,” Macron said. “Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism. By saying ‘our interests first, who cares about the others,’ we erase what a nation holds dearest, what gives it life, what makes it great, and what is essential: its moral values.” He went on: “I know there are old demons which are coming back to the surface. They are ready to wreak chaos and death.”
If the new demons of chaos and death can be found chanting “USA! USA!” in MAGA caps, it’s striking how little they resemble the American demons of yesterday. In 2003, America’s foreign policy was anything but nationalist. It was, in fact, universalist in its prescription of liberty for all, and European leaders were also pretty worked up about that. Back then, the complaint out of Paris wasn’t that the Americans were abandoning their “moral values.” The problem was that we were championing them.