This is a hard time for America. We are being brought face to face with ourselves and those of us who are conscious do not like what we see. I realize how worn many of us are of hearing this but Donald Trump is not the cause of our problems right now. He certainly embodies those problems and he does it with a flair for hubris and nihilism that is impossible to ignore. But our most pressing problem, our proverbial chickens coming home to roost, is that we are caught up right now in the final battles of the penultimate war between American Identity versus American Ideals. The ultimate war will be between good and evil and when we were there before, good prevailed. But it prevailed because people fought for it and died for it- not because it was preordained.
The racism, xenophobia, and ethnocentrism that were implicit in Donald Trump’s last public comments attacking decency and humanity are the problem. When he referred to Haiti, African nations and Latin-American nations as “shitholes” it was impossible to miss his point and you can bet your ass that was by design. Because in the very next breath after calling all of those nations of brown peoples “shitholes” he made it a point to speak favorably of Norway and expressing his wishes that it would bring more of its pure white citizens into our American immigration system. So for Donald Trump and all of his most trusted advisers (the insufferable Stephen Miller and the now excommunicated Steve Bannon especially) American IDENTITY is the driving energy behind who we are as a nation and how we should be governing ourselves at home and managing ourselves abroad.
And American Identity is highly problematic because it so often is about race and national origin and misguided conclusions of cultural purity. In short, American Identity politics historically and inherently is about the supremacy of white people over all other people in the world. Who can deny the fact that white entitlement is as old as America itself and fueled the fight that allowed the European settlers to claim this land for their own? Identity is not inherently evil- but it is restrictive, static, exclusionary and divisive by nature. That makes it is a piss-poor governing concept.
On the other hand, the American Ideal was born at the very moment the country was. Within the founding documents are ideals that we are challenged to live up to. If “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” it becomes difficult to govern from a mindset that some people have emerged from a “shithole.” If we really do believe that God has given every man inalienable “rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” it becomes difficult to throw up barriers or restrictions that may impede anyone’s path to those rights. If we are driven by the belief that these rights are inalienable, how can we possibly care what color a man is? Or what name he calls when he prays? Or who he chooses to love? These are the American Ideals that have to win out in order for us to continue our quest to be the shining city on a hill and the world’s last best hope for a just and honorable society.
Of course we are all well versed in the contradictions of America as she has gone through the growing pains of self-actualization but we have to keep in mind that in the world of leading nations, America is by far the youngest- a mere toddler by comparison to the nations that contributed to our founding 241 years ago. Those contradictions- the enslavement of Africans, subjugation of the indigenous populations of this land and the wholesale exclusion and marginalization of women- were baked into the white European American identity.
But we must emphasize that at the very same time came the enduring ideals of freedom, justice and inclusion as God’s creations and those ideals are actually what make America stand out on the world stage. No other country was founded primarily on ideals- they were founded on control of geography by birthright or war and on dominant bloodlines in a region. In effect, other nations are founded on WHO they are and not on WHAT they are and for America it is the exact opposite. So when some of us focus on the WHO they are completely missing the point of America- the IDEALS trump the Identity, literally.
We are a nation of IDEALS and ideals are inherently expansive. They can be adopted and shared and built upon by any and everyone who understands them and advances them. They have an equal capacity to unify as to divide. Ideals carry the promise and aspirations of the future while identity is a static element based in the past. Looking to history for victory, not for victimhood; for valor, not for villainy; for distinction and not disgrace can lead people to delude themselves and ignore core truths about how we got where we are today. That is why there is so much revisionist history amongst Confederate enthusiasts- they are looking to the past for value in their identity rather than focusing on the ideals of the nation they actually belong to. If your history is full of accounts of your predecessors abusing, raping, murdering, torturing and trading other people you find yourself in a very difficult position. You either have to lie about that history so you can have some sense of pride or double down and defend it to ward off any thoughts or feelings of shame that a decent person would have lurking in the corners of their mind. The former are the “heritage not hate” guys who want to be a part of mainstream society and the latter are the “blood and soil” guys who are trying to go to war with it.
That explains why identity politics is so dangerous and why the cause of the South in the Civil War was the cause of evil. That is also why Trumpism is inherently evil. These are not just alternative ways of looking at the world, these identity driven philosophies are toxic and will be the end of us if we let them be.
Toxic patriotism is the scourge of right wing politics. It is an extention of American Identity over American Ideals and people of good conscious have to stand in the breech determined to stop it from advancing any further. America is a nation of immigrants, by immigrants and for immigrants. America is a nation built on the ideal that people can come here from everywhere around the world and be guaranteed the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is the American Ideal and that is our starting point. If we are going to win this war, we must start and finish right there.