American Exceptionalism proffers a unique history and a spectacular destiny for this nation. It is based on a history of divine intervention, a narrative which arcs toward freedom and justice. In this narrative, God inspired the Founding Fathers to form a republic that would lead the world into civil and religious liberty.
American Exceptionalism, in other words, is first and foremost collective history.
Part of Making America Great Again is dependent on restoring pride in America and what it stands for. We have seen the beginning of that resurgence.
American Exceptionalism is tied to true Patriotism, not to be confused with its problematic cousin, Nationalism. There is a difference between nationalism and patriotism. While nationalism and patriotism are often used interchangeably, they are completely different approaches to how an individual relates to his or her country.
Nationalism is allegiance or love of one’s country based primarily on race, ethnicity, or ancestry. Patriotism is the love of one’s country based on its ideals, values, and beliefs. In a nutshell, nationalism is tribal while patriotism is principled and philosophical.
“The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.” – Syndey Harris
Conservatism, by its nature has always fostered patriotism, not nationalism. Patriotism leads to freedom while nationalism leads to uniformity.
As George Orwell wrote in an essay over 68 years ago:
Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism…By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.
Patriots want peace, but will fiercely defend their country, while nationalists are less tolerant of any deviation from their point-of-view.
American history has always been marked by a deep-seated love of country based on our ideals and values, thus by deeply engrained patriotism. This is a key reason why we have continued to make progress as a country, both economically and culturally.
Patriots love their country, right or wrong, but are willing to admit when there are reforms that are needed. Love of country, coupled with a deep desire to correct its wrongs, has made America a continual work-in-progress that has made us into the wealthiest and powerful nation in the world.
Patriotism is the key to this continual strengthening of our nation, while holding to our founding ideals as enshrined in the Constitution of the United States.
While both nationalism and patriotism are both associated with love of country, patriotism is the more principled and refined of the two. Patriots, like conservatives in general, believe that what unites the nation is not race or ancestry, but commonly held principles and values that are equally true and beneficial for all members of society.
Patriots and nationalist alike may oppose illegal immigration, for example, but patriots oppose illegal immigration on the grounds of the rule of law and that assimilation is key to the maintenance of American ideals and values On the other hand, ardent nationalists are more likely to oppose illegal immigration for racial and ethnic reasons.
Conservativism, again, is the primary promoter of patriotism versus nationalism, because its primary interest is the preservation of values and culture, not racial homogeny.
The election of Donald Trump has brought the continued debate over patriotism versus nationalism back to the forefront of our political debate, but for the wrong reasons. Liberals will tell you “America First” is a code-word to racists and white supremacists, instead of a sincere desire to advance the interests of the nation. We know it is not.
For the record, I do not believe President Trump seeks to advance a nationalistic agenda instead of a patriotic agenda. Promoting American strength and greatness can be patriotic instead of nationalistic, so long as the desired outcome is the improved lives of ALL Americans regardless of their race or ancestry.
Conservatism promotes patriotism instead of nationalism, because conservativism seeks to conserve the principles that made America, the America as outlined in the Constitution of our country. While there will always be cranks and racists trying to hijack a patriotic agenda and make it a tool of nationalism, conservativism is not a promoter of rigid nationalism.
Conservatives must always make clear that our love of country is not based on race or ancestry, but always on the preservation of the ideals of human liberty that lead to human flourishing.
Patriotism is ever-expanding and optimistic, while nationalism typically leads to bitterness and despair. America chose patriotism to Make America Great again.