Nationalism and Idealism at the Border
What is America?
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
The Border Patrol is to the millennial lefty what the Marines in Vietnam were to his grandpa. The problem with both is not that they wear uniforms and carry guns. A heavily armed force dedicated to policing carbon emissions, hate speech, and non-biodegradable straws would be entirely copacetic.
The trouble is that the Border Patrol and the Marine Corps are nationalistic forces. And nationalistic forces are the wrong kind of forces because they exist to secure the physical existence of America.
Idealistic forces that exist to protect ideas, like the evils of the industrial revolution, politically incorrect speech, or violations of UN human rights accords, from threatening the ideal society are good. Threats to our ideas about the world must be urgently fought. And reality is the greatest threat to those ideas.
The threatening thing about borders is that they define the nation as a physical reality, not an ideal.
Lefties prefer America as an ideal rather than a reality. The ideal nation is a mirror image of their politics. It is not defined by anything as grubby as citizenship or miles of land, but by ideas. Its true defenders aren’t men in uniforms with guns, but social justice activists lecturing about its evils.
When they speak of loving America, it’s not a love of the actual country, but of their own ideals.
"I believe, as an immigrant, I probably love this country more than anyone that is naturally born and because I am ashamed of it continuing to live in its hypocrisy,” Rep. Ilhan Omar claimed.
Lefties often pair love and resentment of America. They speak of loving an ideal, but loathing the reality.
This allegiance to America as an ideal becomes treason to the real America. But to lefties, it is the reality of America that is a betrayal of its ideal. The actual country has an objective existence. The ideal one exists only in the subjective vision of each individual. To be loyal to your subjective ideal over that of the actual nation in which you live is to give allegiance not to America, but to your own desires.
The immigration debate pits nationalists against idealists. To the nationalists, America is limited by physical realities, by the capacities of its land, its number of available jobs, and the limitations of its social fabric, while to the idealists, America is an unlimited space that is capable of anything.
We can absorb every single person who comes here. Anyone who disagrees is a bigot.
That is the fundamental difference between nationalists and idealists. Nationalists have strong ideals, but they believe that ideals derive from physical realities. Nationalists believe that America’s potential is inherent in its physical territory and in the physical realities of its citizens. Idealists insist that physical realities derive from ideals. America’s potential is not rooted in its territories or its people, but its ideas.
If you believe that we are only as limited as our ideas, then any objection that we cannot absorb unlimited migrants, and provide everyone with infinite free benefits, reveals a limitation of ideas.
Idealists denounce such limitations as selfish greed and reactionary bigotry.
When the Border Patrol is overwhelmed by migrants, idealists attribute the resulting conditions not to resource limitations, but to malice. That’s the same thing they attribute a refusal to implement universal health care, even though it can’t be paid for, or forgive all outstanding college loans, likewise impossible.
People who believe that ideas create resources reject the very concept of resource shortages. To them, there is never a shortage of resources, only a shortage of the ideas that allow resources to be shared.
The currency of real nations is money, but the currency of ideal nations is ideas. In real nations, policies have to be paid for. In ideal nations, free health care or education are the currency and pay for themselves. New immigrants create jobs. All spending, as Obama liked to say, is really an investment.
Idealists are unable to distinguish abstractions from realities. When President Lincoln said that America was “dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal”, to them that is not a legal principle, as it was to Lincoln, but a factual reality that must be demonstrated as a fundamental truth of life.
Since to idealists, equality is primarily a moral principle, they are required to believe that all immigrants believe that everyone is equal, otherwise they themselves would be guilty of heresy. The baffling outcome of this delusional thinking leads them to dismiss Rep. Ilhan Omar’s anti-Semitism as a myth, otherwise she would be less than equal, and they would be bigots for even thinking such a thing.
The idealist error lies not only in mistaking the physical capacity of immigration, but its moral capacity.
They assume that America is a universal idea rather than a nation. Nationalists understand that America’s uniqueness lies in its ideas. But they view those ideas as emerging from a culture. The ideas that make America great emerged from a history of ideas within England and the West. To study the history of ideas is to understand their origin in a physical reality and to know their limitations.
To idealists, ideas are a religious revelation. Their origins are an interesting detail, but not a limitation. It doesn’t matter what country or culture originated John Locke. Much as to many the Jewishness of the prophets is incidental. The ideas of America are infinitely portable and transportable. They can be planted in Iraq or Afghanistan and function every bit as well as they do in Texas or California.
Nor, is there any reason for idealists to assume, that migrants from Iraq or Somalia are not as American as we are. If everyone is created equal, then really everyone is an American.
Except those Americans who resist accepting the insanity of that proposition.
If the essence of what it is to be an American is to believe in universal entitlements, which is what leftists have distilled the proposition of universal equality to, then everyone who believes that the government is required to give everyone free healthcare and college, is truly an American.
Rep. Ilhan Omar is a great American because she believes in the right of free things for all. And it is the Republicans who don’t believe in universal entitlements who are guilty of being un-American.
The two Americas, the nation of ideas and of citizens, are on a collision course at the border.
The second America, the one with borders, an economy and citizens, has interests. These interests are an expression of the physical needs of its citizens. The first America, the place of ideas, has no citizens, no economy and no borders. It is a phantom nation with no physical realities, only ideals and values.
Nationalists speak in terms of interests. Idealists blather about values. American interests are condemned as violations of American values. To protect the border is “not who we are”, they insist.
Our ‘whoness’ is not measured in the physicality of land and laws. America is not a real place, but a concept. Its borders are not policed with armed men, but hate speech codes. The integrity of its ideas matters far more than the lives of its people, the integrity of its borders or the worth of its economy.
Nationalists want to control the physical boundaries of the nation while idealists want to police its discourse. Both are protecting what they understand to be the essential truth of America.
But there can only be one America.
The citizenry voted Trump to protect America’s interests and the elites have vowed to destroy him to protect America’s values. The citizenry wants to build a wall on the border and the elites want to build a wall on the internet to silence opponents of migration. The outcome will determine whether America will be a free nation of citizens whose elected officials protect their interests or a tyranny of idealists.