In The Wall Street Journal, William A. Galston discusses what it means to be American, and the difference between “Americans First” and “Americans Only.” He writes (abridged):
“Suddenly, it seems, nationalism is being discussed everywhere.
The term is used to explain, and often to justify, the success of the Brexit referendum in the U.K., the election of Donald Trump in the U.S., and increasing skepticism about international institutions and norms throughout the West.
Nationalism, proponents argue, has nothing to do with aggression against others. Instead it points inward, to the desire of every nation to be left alone and govern itself in accordance with its own traditions, says Yoram Hazony, a leading theorist of nationalism.
Nationalism is connected to political sovereignty through a compound idea—the nation-state. In this theory, each state is the political representative of a single nation, and the perimeter of the nation corresponds to the boundary of the state.
Sixty-three percent of Republicans, and 69% of voters who supported Donald Trump in the primaries, believe that you cannot be truly American if you haven’t lived in the U.S. for most of your life.
Sixty-three percent of Republicans and 72% of Trump primary voters go further: They say you aren’t truly American unless you were born here.
Fifty-six percent of Republicans and 63% of Trump primary voters assert that you cannot be truly American unless you are a Christian.
Disconcertingly, nearly a third of early Trump supporters also think true Americans must be of European heritage or descent.
To be fair, substantial numbers of Americans who do not support Mr. Trump also espouse these nationalist sentiments, which are anything but new. The share of Americans who believe that being Christian is part of being a true American is about the same as in the mid-1990s, and the share who think that being born here is essential to American identity is significantly lower.
Being fully American takes more than endorsing the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
It means accepting our history, with all its burdens, as one’s own.
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