“National identity is the most powerful force in world politics today. Most of the strong leaders around the world were swept to power with a strong nationalist story and govern in nationalist ways. This is true in Russia, China, India, the U.S., Israel, Turkey, Britain, Brazil and on and on. It’s hard to see how any party could appeal or govern these days without a strong national story.
In this country, Donald Trump has almost nothing but a national story, which he returned to with a vengeance in the closing days of this year’s campaigns. It happens to be a cramped, reactionary and racial story. Trump effectively defines America as a white ethnic nation that is being overrun by aliens — people who don’t look like us, don’t share our values, who threaten our safety and take our jobs.
Trump’s blood-and-soil nationalism overturns the historical ideal of American nationalism, which was pluralistic — that we are united by creed, not blood; that our common culture is defined by a shared American dream — pioneers settling the West, immigrants crossing an ocean in search of opportunity, African-Americans rising from slavery toward equality.
The Republicans have flocked to Trump’s cramped nationalism and abandoned their creedal story. That’s left the Democrats with a remarkable opportunity. They could seize the traditional American national story, or expand it to gather in the unheard voices, while providing a coherent, unifying vehicle to celebrate the American dream.
And yet what have we heard from the Democrats? Crickets.
What is the Democratic national story? A void.
Why have the Democrats failed to offer a counternarrative to Trumpian nationalism? For two reasons, I think, one political and one moral.
First, these days nations often define their national identities through their immigration policies. Democrats have never liked to talk about immigration at election time. The immigration issue splits the Democratic coalition. Affluent progressive and liberal activists are for it, but working-class whites and African-Americans are more skeptical.”