The nationalists’ dilemma

Donald Trump and other members of the alt-right tend to have a very favorable view of Vladimir Putin.  After all, he shares many of their nationalistic political instincts.  But nationalists face a dilemma, as their ideology is fundamentally selfish.  Nationalists favor the home country and demonize foreigners.  So are nationalists to be pro-America or pro-nationalism?  You can’t have it both ways.

In recent years, Putin has brought back the Cold War, by invading neighboring countries, tearing up arms control agreements and gloating about the fact that the US will not be able to stop a new type of nuclear missile from reaching Florida.  Trump doesn’t seem to know how to respond to this new reality:

Former CIA Director John Brennan expressed “deep worry and concern” Friday about leadership and the nation’s safety in the wake of Donald Trump’s ugly Twitter attack against Alec Baldwin over the actor’s portrayal of the president on “Saturday Night Live.”

Brennan was asked by Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC if he thought Trump was “too unstable” to possess the nuclear codes that would allow him to launch an attack. Brennan responded that he was rattled by the president’s strange focus on Baldwin the morning after Russian President Vladimir Putin boasted of his nation’s nuclear capabilities to strike anywhere in the world, including the U.S. A simulated video presented by Putin appeared to depict next-generation nuclear missiles striking Florida.

Trump has yet to respond to Putin. Instead, he ranted against the actor in an error-riddled tweet early Friday morning (the tweet was later reposted with corrections).

“When I hear what Vladimir Putin was saying about the nuclear capabilities he has [and] then the president of the United States is tweeting about Alec Baldwin this morning, I mean, where is your sense of priorities?” Brennan asked. “I think a lot of Americans are looking at what’s happening with a sense of: This is surreal.”

There’s “deep, deep worry and concern for this country’s national security,” he added.

A couple days ago I visited the Nixon Library in Yorba Linda.  The Nixon administration is the first one that I remember well, and seeing the exhibits brought back a lot of memories.  I view Nixon as one of America’s worst presidents.  He was very corrupt and dishonest.  And yet, he was so far superior to Trump that it’s like they are not even members of the same species.  Even in Nixon’s worst qualities, he was nowhere near as bad as Trump; not nearly as corrupt or dishonest, for instance. (John Dean recently made the same point.)  And in his best qualities he was dramatically superior to Trump.  He worked hard, gave a lot of thought to foreign affairs, and did seriously try to improve our relations with countries such as China and the Soviet Union.  Watching news clips from that era you had the sense that America was actually a serious country, like Canada or Germany or the Netherlands.  Now this country seems like just another banana republic, with a president who has the mentality of a Duterte, a Chavez, a Berlusconi.  It is a surreal experience viewing the Nixon Library with the thought of Trump in the back of one’s mind.

Update:  And isn’t this reassuring?



29 Responses to “The nationalists’ dilemma”

  1. Gravatar of Mike Sandifer Mike Sandifer
    3. March 2018 at 10:19

    Very well put. I concur.

  2. Gravatar of Benny Lava Benny Lava
    3. March 2018 at 16:14

    No matter what happens Trump supporters will line up behind him because they love him. Isn’t it sad when somebody loves someone who won’t reciprocate?

  3. Gravatar of Lorenzo from Oz Lorenzo from Oz
    3. March 2018 at 17:04

    On the theme of dangerous unseriousness, this piece by a wonderful blogger is deeply depressing food for thought.

  4. Gravatar of Alec Fahrin Alec Fahrin
    3. March 2018 at 17:11

    And at least 34 more months of this…

    I still don’t get how a trade deficit with China is bad for our economy. Yet the “tariff China” argument is becoming more and more widespread here in DC. The director of national intelligence just accused all Chinese students in the USA of being spies for Christ’s sake! Look at The Economist this week! Financial Times!
    We are rapidly returning to the 1950s.

    Seems that many intelligent people who hate China are willing to harm the USA in a perceived attack on China. They rather sacrifice the long-term for the short-term. Much like Trump.
    These China analysts are in a bind. Support anti-China anti-trade policies peddled by the madman in control of the USA, or oppose the madman and his policies.

    My fear is that Trump paints more bogeymen, and uses them to get reelected.
    When even the rational free traders you used to look up to now support destroying free trade, who do you trust? Has the world gone mad?

  5. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    3. March 2018 at 18:05

    “So are nationalists to be pro-America or pro-nationalism?”
    “In recent years, Putin has brought back the Cold War,”
    “by invading neighboring countries,”
    “tearing up arms control agreements”
    “and gloating about the fact that the US will not be able to stop a new type of nuclear missile from reaching Florida.”
    A natural reaction to U.S. nuclear rearmament under the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations. What’s Russia supposed to do; allow the Americans to take Krim?

    “Trump doesn’t seem to know how to respond to this new reality:”

    Meanwhile, Trump has approved arms sales to kill the brave men defending Donbass. But you don’t care about that, do you, Sumner, you bloodthirsty filth?

  6. Gravatar of Steve J Steve J
    3. March 2018 at 18:35

    Harding were you pro-Russia before Trump?

  7. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    3. March 2018 at 19:16

    Steve, I was born in Russia; why wouldn’t I be pro-Russian before Trump? My views on the issues haven’t really changed since I started commenting on this blog in late 2014. Perhaps the most profound change in the way I think about politics since then was caused by reading Hobbes’ Leviathan a year ago. And even that didn’t change my policy positions much at all (it only gave me a useful mental framework).

  8. Gravatar of Steve J Steve J
    3. March 2018 at 20:04

    Harding, I did not know you were born in Russia. Not that I am going to start agreeing with you but I will give your comments on Russia more weight. Although I will tell you “lie” does not persuade me much.

  9. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    3. March 2018 at 20:23

    Maybe the Nixon Library is not the best place to revive Nixon memories.

    1. Nixon imposed across-the-board 10% import trade tariffs….and also domestic wage-and-price controls…on the same day! August 15, 1971. Top that!

    2. Nixon on monetary policy:

    The astounding and revelatory conversation between President Richard Nixon and Fed Chairman Arthur Burns was caught on tape on March 19, 1971, in the famed White House Oval Office.

    Nixon: Arthur, the main thing is next year [1972, election year]…let’s don’t let it [unemployment] get any higher. I hope we can—
    Burns: That’s what I have my eye on.
    Nixon: Yeah. But I think we really got to think of goosing it.
    Burns: Yes.
    Nixon: Shall we say late summer and fall this year in order to affect next year?”
    Burns: Exactly.


    3. We have Nixon dropping “at least 270 million cluster bomblets were dropped (on Laos) as part of the bombing campaign; approximately 80 million failed to detonate.”

    Egads, the carnage from those bombs continues to this day. Nixon also extended the Vietnam war past the 1972 election so as not to “lose” the war before then. Nixon and Kissinger had already decided it was a lost cause.

    4. Nixon was mobbed up.

    Nixon pardoned a mob hit man Angeleo “Gyp” DeCarlo in 1972. You know, have a heart…for mobsters.

    5. Nixon ordered a break-in and then a fire started at Brookings Institution.

    I could go on.

    I will concur that Nixon’s public persona, awful as it was, would be pleasant relief from Trump’s. But there is more to life than public decorum. President Xi is the picture of probity in public. He just named himself President for life.

    But what is it about Nixon’s trade, monetary policies and wage-and-price controls that make him better than Trump?

    The war on the people of Laos?

    Being mobbed up?

    Planning burglaries and fires?

    Or Google “milk price supports and Nixon”…..oooof.

    There was a reason Nixon left office…

  10. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    3. March 2018 at 20:37

    Alec, Interestingly, these tariffs aren’t even aimed at China, they are aimed at Canada.

    This is just beyond stupid.

    Harding, You said:

    “A natural reaction to U.S. nuclear rearmament under the Bush, Obama, and Trump administrations.”

    The Noam Chomsky of the alt-right.

    Ben, Maybe you have trouble reading, I said Nixon was one of our worst Presidents.

  11. Gravatar of B Cole B Cole
    4. March 2018 at 00:22

    Scott Sumner: how is Trump, other than his wretched public persona, worse than Nixon?

  12. Gravatar of Philo Philo
    4. March 2018 at 08:24

    “So are nationalists to be pro-America or pro-nationalism? You can’t have it both ways.” This “nationalist dilemma” is similar to the “ethical egoist dilemma,” pointed out by Brian Medlin in a famous article from 1957 (“Ultimate Principles and Ethical Egoism,” Australasian Journal of Philosophy). (I don’t suppose his point was original, but I don’t know of any clear-cut precursors.) The dilemma: If you embrace the principle of ethical egoism, do you want me to do what will maximally benefit *me*, or what will maximally benefit *you*?

  13. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. March 2018 at 08:54

    Ben, Nixon had some good qualities. Trump has none.

    Philo, Good analogy.

  14. Gravatar of Negation of Ideology Negation of Ideology
    4. March 2018 at 11:46

    B. Cole – “But there is more to life than public decorum. ”

    Yes, there is more to life, but public decorum is pretty important in such a public position. Ask yourself this – if a CEO of any major corporation behaved like Trump would he keep his job? (Assuming he doesn’t own the company). And this – if a job applicant at your company acted as buffoonish as Trump at the interview, would he be hired?

    The answer to both questions is obviously no.

  15. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    4. March 2018 at 13:48

    “Nixon had some good qualities. Trump has none.”

    Disagree. Nixon had much better political acumen, but Trump has much better wit and an eye for the demagogic. Also, Trump has better people to guide him on domestic policy, which does say something about him.

    “Although I will tell you “lie” does not persuade me much.”

    The reunification with Krim was not an invasion, but a choice to join Russia by the people of Krim. Even most Krimean Tatars supported the reunification. Nor is sending a small number of Russian soldiers to advise and assist the LNR and DNR an invasion. By that standard, the U.S., Poland, and who knows how many other countries have all invaded Syria over the course of 2014-18. Defending South Ossetia+Abhazia from Georgian aggression can also hardly be called invading Georgia.

    The so-called “new cold war” exclusively consists of Western actions against Russia (sanctions, supporting Ukrainian coup, arming Ukraine, Russophobic rhetoric during the 2014 Olympics for the ostensible reason of Russia’s ban on propagating homosexual propaganda to minors, seizing Russian diplomatic property in the U.S., mandating the Russian consulate in SF be closed, kicking Russia out from the Korean Winter Olympics, indicting Russian Internet posters for making fake Paypal accounts, etc.). The best English-language blog on Russia is A. Karlin’s; I agree with him almost all the time.

  16. Gravatar of Don Don
    4. March 2018 at 18:56

    Ironic that TDS made Nixon your hero, while Clinton/Obama were secretly spying on the Trump campaign–an act that led to Nixon’s resignation. It is at moments like this, that we can be thankful that HRC, the most corrupt presidential candidate ever, was defeated. Why is that anything short of total allegiance to globalist socialism is a considered fascist/nationalist by leftists? Many of us choose liberty!

  17. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    4. March 2018 at 21:09

    Harding, You already told me that you approved of Hitler taking the Sudetenland. You are right, the actions are similar. So I agree with you, Putin’s action is no worse than Hitler’s.

    Don, I said:

    “I view Nixon as one of America’s worst presidents. He was very corrupt and dishonest.”

    And you responded:

    “Ironic that TDS made Nixon your hero”

    I like it when I get these sorts of comments from Trump supporters. It makes it easier to understand why people join the alt-right. I’d be worried if my opponents actually knew how to think.

  18. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    4. March 2018 at 21:33

    “So I agree with you, Putin’s action is no worse than Hitler’s.”

    The Mexican War is an example closer to home (without any referendum, to boot); why not use that? Instead, by using the example of the Sudeten crisis, you’re pretty clearly trying to stop debate via a (pretty idiotic and useless) argumentum ad Hitlerum.

  19. Gravatar of Miguel Madeira Miguel Madeira
    5. March 2018 at 03:08

    French nationalists had a similar dilemma in the 1930s and 1940s.

  20. Gravatar of Benjamin Cole Benjamin Cole
    5. March 2018 at 03:40


    “And this – if a job applicant at your company acted as buffoonish as Trump at the interview, would he be hired?”

    Suppose I really needed power clean-up hitter?

    Or suppose he was there to “do the best mix” on some music scores?

    Depends on the job.

    Also, the braggadocio, bluster and buffoonery just doesn’t bother me as much as its does others. This is a matter of taste. I have been accused of having bad taste from time to time.

  21. Gravatar of Ol’ George Ol' George
    5. March 2018 at 05:09

    The anti-human project known as “liberalism” can survive solely through lies.

    Good to see which side you’ve chosen, Scotty.

  22. Gravatar of Chuck Chuck
    5. March 2018 at 09:00

    Good thing nukes are fake.

  23. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    5. March 2018 at 10:44

    Nixon is the 1st president I remember… probably not as well as you. But I’ve watched some of the old newsreels and am interested in that part of our history. I agree with you Scott.

  24. Gravatar of Tom Brown Tom Brown
    5. March 2018 at 10:46

    Ben, it goes way beyond mere “braggadocio, bluster and buffoonery.” IMO he’ll go down as the most corrupt and incompetent president we’ve had up to this point in our history.

  25. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    5. March 2018 at 21:46

    Miguel, Good example.

  26. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    6. March 2018 at 12:51

    Sumner doubles down on Godwinning.

  27. Gravatar of Michael Rulle Michael Rulle
    8. March 2018 at 06:32

    I have given up defending Trump, because he is harder to defend. Nixon without Watergate would have been oddly a middle of the road to left-wing leaning democrat. I do not find the anti-Trumpers any more soothing, however. My perception is he made a successful hostile take-over of the political establishment, and this is what drives their anger. The fact that he adds to the ability to critique him through a variety of means has not yet made him a total failure. He even has done a lot what he said he would do, even if we do not like it. He is also transparent. At least we can see what he is up to.

    But the establishment does not care about Trump per se—and the establishment itself is two wings—Dems and traditional GOP—–they care they have lost power. They like the more typical one on one battle without outsiders. However, he has at least a 50/50 chance to be here 7 more years which is a dreary thought. I much prefer the traditional Hitler baiting on normal guys like Romney and Pence.

  28. Gravatar of ssumner ssumner
    8. March 2018 at 11:41

    Michael, You said:

    “He even has done a lot what he said he would do, even if we do not like it.”

    You mean like not expelling the 11 million illegals? Not repealing Obamacare? Not building infrastructure? Slowing the pace of job growth compared to Obama? Causing the trade deficit to explode?

    These were the things he promised? Wake me when America is Great Again.

    As far as the GOP, you do realize they are supporting Trump? Indeed they are protecting him from investigation.

  29. Gravatar of E. Harding E. Harding
    9. March 2018 at 11:32

    “Wake me when America is Great Again.”

    I will. Could be in four years. Maybe six.

Leave a Reply