Don’t let Trump discredit patriotism

What Trump’s fans never grapple with as they ceaselessly invoke the specter of socialism, riots and gun confiscation, is how much Trump drives the left toward extremism.

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A supporter of President Donald Trump waves an American flag at a rally on Oct. 19, 2020, in Tucson, Ariz.

AP Photos

Donald Trump has a documented history of driving Americans away from the policies he favors. This is both good and bad. 

As Catherine Rampell noted, the president has moved American public opinion toward greater approval of immigration. The percentage of Americans who said that immigration is good for the country bounced around in the 50s and 60s in the first decade and a half of this century. But since 2016, the trend has been up sharply. In 2020, 77% of Americans told Gallup that they think immigration is good for the country. Similarly, the percentage who believe that accepting refugees fleeing war or persecution should be a priority has increased from 62% in 2016 to 73% in 2019.

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Trump has also increased the appetite for government involvement in health care. Since embarking on his quest for the presidency, Trump has denounced the Affordable Care Act, but only because he promised something superior. His specific policy proposal for replacing the law was something “terrific,” “phenomenal” and “fantastic.”

In February 2017, having been in office a few weeks, Trump tweeted “repeal and replacement of ObamaCare is coming fast!” At the end of March, with negotiations bogging down, he pleaded for more time. “I want to have a great health care bill and plan, and we will.” 

It didn’t happen. Health care reform was a dead letter, except that having failed to repeal or replace the ACA through legislation, the administration joined in a legal assault on the law, challenging its constitutionality. If the Trump administration were to get its way at the Supreme Court, millions of Americans would lose health insurance in the midst of a pandemic. Oh, and on Aug. 3 of this year, the president once again promised his own health care proposal “hopefully, prior to the end of the month.”

Amazingly, the public’s response to this clown show was to express increasing support for the ACA, with a solid 55% expressing approval of the law this month, up from about 40% in 2016. 

Trump’s fulminations against trade have convinced some — Republicans are now far more negative about NAFTA than in the pre-Trump era — but most Americans have moved in the other direction, with 74% agreeing that trade is an opportunity for economic growth versus 21% who view it as a threat to the economy.

As a pro-immigrant free-trader, I’m not sorry that Trump has driven people away from his views, though I do lament the loss of a chance for free market health reform. 

Trump has driven people away from the Republican Party, and caused them to reject the label “conservative.” And while it’s no loss for the nation if protectionism and nativism are discredited, there are other things that Trumpism endangers that would be serious losses.

I worry that Trump is contaminating patriotism itself. His blatantly racist appeals combined with his crude and offensive invocations of “America First” run the risk of associating patriotism with whiteness. His fondness for the Confederacy stains his embrace of the American flag. 

What Trump’s fans on the right never seem to grapple with as they ceaselessly invoke the specter of socialism, riots and gun confiscation, is how much Trump drives the left toward extremism. From the 1619 Project to the toppling of statues of anti-slavery heroes, there is a movement afoot that Bari Weiss calls a “mixture of postmodernism, postcolonialism, identity politics, neo-Marxism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and the therapeutic mentality.”

Some of this predated Trump, of course, but he has turbo-charged it.

The left-wing challenge to American legitimacy has always stressed racism, colonialism, sexism and unconstrained capitalism. Trump has lived down to each and every one of those stereotypes. (You may object that he wasn’t a colonialist, but don’t forget, “Take the oil!”) 

As we look to rebuild in a post-Trump world, we non-leftists must be able to make the case for American patriotism. We cannot respond to the 1619 Project with heavy-handed attempts to limit its reach, but with arguments and context. No, this country would not be lovable if its history were one long chronicle of racism and oppression. It isn’t. We have much to be ashamed of in our history but much more to celebrate and be grateful for. We have been free and a beacon of freedom for more than two centuries. We have welcomed people from all over the globe and insisted that when they become citizens, they are the full equals of those born here. We have confronted our past sins, imperfectly, but diligently, nevertheless. We’ve given the world fantastic inventions like the airplane and the Salk vaccine, but nothing more important than the Declaration of Independence with its ringing invocation of natural rights.

Trump is a shriveled soul and tends to diminish everything and everyone he touches. As we move out of his orbit, we can begin to recapture some of the grandeur of the nation he has led so miserably. 

We cannot permit American patriotism to be hijacked by yahoos and bigots. As we start to heal from the past four years, we must rescue patriotism from Trumpism.

Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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