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In Defense of (Healthy) Nationalism

Sometimes the average guy has wisdom to share, too

Backers of Donald Trump's view of national sovereignty shouldn't be dismissed as "rubes," writes Matt Lewis. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Backers of Donald Trump's view of national sovereignty shouldn't be dismissed as "rubes," writes Matt Lewis. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Game day. Smoky tailgates, Steelers jerseys, and a sea of black and gold. A man walks by with “Diehard Steelers Fan” written across his stomach.  

For much of America, this is called “Sunday.”  

While NFL fans can be brutal, their passion is the result of a loyalty to their team.  

Except for the fiercest rivalries, it’s not that most football fans (at least the ones I know) necessarily want other teams to lose; it’s just that they want “their” team to win.  

There’s nothing wrong with this. There’s no shame attached to loving your home team and revering your home field.  

And while it might sound simplistic to suggest this, I think this very fundamental human attachment helps explain the United Kingdom’s “Brexit” vote to withdraw from the European Union, as well as the rise of Donald Trump.   

Very simply, this can be seen as a revolt of the guys in Steelers jerseys from the guys in white-collar shirts.   

The old right versus left paradigm is giving way to a city versus rural one — a populist versus elite one.  


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And while you and I might agree that things like free trade bring prosperity (and cheaper prices for consumers), we can probably concede that there are always winners and losers in any economic regime. We might even concede that, while “some” of what is driving this populist phenomenon is pernicious, its proponents might just have a point or two in their favor.  

Part of the anger we are witnessing actually has to do with the fact that the media are out of touch with the average guy. This is an organic phenomenon; it’s not a conspiracy. By virtue of becoming a member of the media, you almost necessarily cease being a regular guy. Let’s be honest, populist nationalism is wildly underrepresented in newsrooms.  

And let’s consider the way this global phenomenon is covered by those of us in the media. The word “nationalism” is often bandied about as a pejorative (I’ve done it) — suggesting jingoism and xenophobia. Indeed, these things exist, and this is a fair interpretation of the word. But the word can also mean something as anodyne as advocating for “political independence,” which one might also define as patriotism.  

This is not something we should scoff at.  

It’s understandable (and even noble) that political elites would resist and reject a brand of anti-trade, anti-immigrant populism fueled by fear and anger and scarcity. Opinion leaders should not sit idly by and cavalierly watch populist demagogues repeat the mistakes of the past. Nor should they pander to the masses simply because it’s good for ratings or page views.  

But the other extreme of this is to mock or dismiss the “Trumpenproletariat” as rubes. Some of these folks are the people we ought to revere as war heroes, police officers, small business owners — you know, people who work hard and play by the rules.  

And here’s what we all secretly suspect, even if it isn’t expressed: Many of these elites, seeing themselves as “citizens of the world,” really view the very concept of the nation-state as anachronistic.  


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It is easy and appropriate for us to condemn aspects of this political worldview that flirt with racism, and let’s be honest, that’s part of the story.  But another part of the story is simply a desire for national sovereignty — for making sure that one’s nation is independent, that it isn’t beholden to foreign courts, or subject to foreign regulations. This is not a fringe idea.  

As we approach Independence Day, cosmopolitan liberal elites might do well to reflect on this aspect of what I think amounts to an international rejection of globalism.  

It seems to me that the average American — the guy rooting for the Steelers — has some wisdom to share, too.  

Roll Call columnist Matt K. Lewis is a Senior Contributor to the Daily Caller and author of the book “Too Dumb to Fail.” Follow him on Twitter @MattKLewis.

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