What’s revealing about so many self-described nationalists is their contempt for the nation they claim to love. When President Trump talks about America, he talks about how people who don’t love it should leave it — and then he talks about how awful it is and how much he doesn’t love it.
Here is America’s president commenting on America’s most populous city and fourth most populous state: “So sad to see that New York City and State are falling apart.” He said he hates them “even more than I should.”
This month, Trump has called San Francisco “filthy dirty,” “disgusting” and “a disgrace.” Last year, he called California “a disgrace to our country.” And over the summer, he called Baltimore a “a disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and a “very dangerous & filthy place” where “no human being would want to live.” This, mind you, about a city where some 600,000 Americans do live.
Atlanta is “in horrible shape and falling apart” and “crime infested,” according to Trump. And Chicago? A city “totally out of control” and “embarrassing to us as a nation.” He concluded that Tallahassee was “poorly run” and “one of the most corrupt cities in the Country!”
In each of these cases, Trump isn’t merely citing crime statistics or pointing out problems. Instead, he is going out of his way to smear parts of America that he personally dislikes.
Before Trump, presidents and presidential candidates were careful to compliment every nook and cranny of the country, even when the praise stretched credulity. Walter Mondale went so far as to say, “I love New Jersey.” And in 2015, Hillary Clinton extolled the “wisdom of Iowans” in an op-ed for the Des Moines Register.
And Trump? Instead of pretending to love New Jersey, he called it “deeply troubled.” Instead of telling Iowans they were wise, he did the opposite. After a poll showed him in second place behind Ben Carson, Trump asked Iowans, “How stupid are the people of Iowa?”
Instead of pandering to the entire country, Trump panders to Red America by denigrating Blue America.
Trump isn’t the first presidential hopeful to disparage America’s cities; he’s just the first one to win by doing it. William Jennings Bryan, the three-time Democratic presidential nominee, famously said, “Burn down your cities and leave our farms, and your cities will spring up again as if by magic. But destroy our farms, and the grass will grow in the streets of every city in the country.” Barry Goldwater suggested that we “saw off the Eastern Seaboard and let it float out to sea.” And Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) decried “New York values” before losing the New York primary to a man from New York with no values.
Trump used to adore his hometown, as he made clear last October when he tweeted, “I cherish New York.” He continued: “As president, I will always be there to help New York and the great people of New York.” Then he moved to Florida.
Trump’s vilification of America’s cities and coasts feeds the notion that urban America isn’t “Real America.” Last month, Republican National Committee Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted a picture of seven Democrats leading impeachment efforts and said, “A picture is worth a thousand words: 3 liberals from California, 3 from New York, and 1 from Massachusetts. The Democrats pushing impeachment couldn’t be more out of touch with most Americans if they tried!”
But who are these “most Americans”? The three states McDaniel cited account for 66 million people, or 20% of the U.S. population. According to McDaniel, states with the most Americans are the least American. Americans who live on farms tens of miles away from other Americans are somehow more “in touch with Americans” than are Americans who live in densely populated cities with other Americans. But if you get on a crowded subway, where you can literally touch other Americans, you’re “out of touch” with Americans.
This makes no sense, of course, but it isn’t supposed to. McDaniel was making a moral claim, not an empirical one. Empirically, it is Republicans, not Democrats, who are out of touch with most Americans. The Republican Party is getting more rural, more male, less educated, less wealthy, older, whiter and smaller — in short, less like the country.
Trump appeals to people who feel alienated in modern America. Today, more Americans do yoga than watch NASCAR, and there are more yoga instructors in America than coal miners.
Nationalists are not patriots. Patriots love America as it is. Nationalists love America as they imagine it once was and detest America as it actually exists. Trump’s revulsion for real America is personal. He hates every part of America that doesn’t love him, which is most of America.
Windsor Mann is the editor of “The Quotable Hitchens: From Alcohol to Zionism.”