Speaking at a recent election rally for Texas Senator Ted Cruz, Trump admitted to being a nationalist:
“You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist.”
This is hardly a revelation. Trump’s actions have already earned him this label. But it indicates another milestone in Trump’s chipping away at democracy and human rights. It is one more reason why Christians must stand in opposition to this president.
Christians are called to put God and neighbor first rather than America first.
Nationalism is different than patriotism. Nationalists see their country as innately superior and support their own interests to the exclusion or expense of others. White Christian nationalists form the core of Trump’s base of supporters. His actions have already laid groundwork for his outward embrace of nationalism. We saw it when he called Mexicans rapists and African and Caribbean countries s-hole countries; when he refused to condemn Neo-Nazi and KKK violence in Charlottesville; when he imposed a Muslim Ban and when he adopted policies that separated nursing babies and toddlers from their moms and dads.
Trump in this speech also alleged that “globalists” do not love their country. First of all, the assertion that people who value international alliances and human rights treaties are unpatriotic is patently false. One can love their country, as I do, while caring about how our nation’s policies and actions affect God’s children in other countries and caring about human rights and peacemaking. Second, this term globalist, a favorite of Steve Bannon and other white supremacists, has a long history of being an anti-Semitic dog whistle.
Here are two fundamental reasons nationalism doesn’t work for Christians:
First, we believe in human dignity as described in Genesis and the creation story. Human beings are created in God’s image and to be treated with dignity and respect regardless of nationality, race, or religion.
Second, love of God is inextricably intertwined with love of neighbor. Jesus told us the Greatest Commandment was to love God, and the second was tied to it: love your neighbor as yourself. When asked to define neighbor, Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan, a foreigner of a different faith who showed hospitality. The neighbor is one who refuses to pass a foreigner by on the other side even when his own life is endangered by helping.
This ethic must be reflected not just in our personal actions but in the laws we support. We can’t feel good about giving food to starving people when we vote for policies that cause them to starve. We cannot help build schools in Latin America and pat ourselves on the back while we vote for policies that kill Latin-American children.
Judaism and Christianity advanced a powerful ethic: the conviction that laws should honor human dignity and fairness. “Remember, you were once slaves in Egypt,” God told the Israelites repeatedly. Therefore, take care of the widow, the orphan, the refugee, the poor.
America has been at her best when we drew from Judeo-Christian ethics, reflecting them in a constitution, legal system, and a foreign policy that defended human rights. To be sure, we have more often than not failed to actually live out this ethic despite our lofty rhetoric. This nation was built on slavery, the genocide of Native Americans and theft (violating over 500 treaties with First Nations). After the brief period of Reconstruction, Jim Crow segregation laws for nearly 100 years implemented slavery by another name. America returned boatloads of Jews fleeing Hitler to their deaths in Europe and delayed support to allies until it was nearly too late. Each of these catastrophes illustrates what happens when people fail to follow God, embracing instead an ultranationalist, xenophobic and greed-driven politics.
The alt-right or white supremacists that Trump has all but endorsed view Christianity as a plague. The alt-right teaches that Christianity has inserted a “pathological altruism” into American culture. They believe that “Like Acid, Christianity burns through the ties of kinship and blood” so critical to ethno-nationalist projects.
Today Christians must see Trump’s brand of nationalism as an attack on our faith and on our country. Let us instead strive for a nation that honors human dignity rather than embracing a racist nationalism based on hatred and fear of neighbor. Our core identity can either be lodged firmly in Christ or our nation. We must choose.