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National View: Mr. President, being a 'nationalist' not a good thing

The spread of nationalism around the globe is the worst development of this century. It could well lead to schisms, wars, more refugee migrations, and cataclysms similar to those of the 20th century.

In a stunning admission at one of his political rallies, President Donald Trump called himself a "nationalist." But contrary to Trump, nationalism does not mean love of one's country. It means an espousal of superiority and racism. It means an end of stability and of nations working together in a common interest. It means more hatred and violence.

To be a nationalist is not a good thing; its connotation now means far-right, racist white power. America fought two world wars against nationalism and to preserve democracy. Nationalism and democracy are not compatible. The most famous nationalist leader was Adolf Hitler. Like him, many nationalists feel under siege and think they must protect their racial identity.

After the murder of a young woman in Charlottesville during a nationalist rally, Trump signaled that he found as much fault with demonstrators protesting racism and religious bigotry as he did with the white nationalists violently advocating it. There was immediate outrage but then Trump changed the topics to nuclear war, hatred of immigrants, disbelief in climate change, tax breaks for the rich, how he is using the power of the White House to enrich himself, etc.

After the worst massacre of American Jews in this country, Trump said it was too bad they didn't have an armed guard to prevent it, ignoring the police officers who were at the Pittsburgh synagogue almost instantly and were shot.

Most recently he blithely assured his supporters he can defy the Constitution and declare that babies born to immigrants in America are not citizens. He has ordered 5,200 armed American soldiers to the southern border to stop an "invasion" of men, women, and children fleeing gang violence and poverty who are walking thousands of miles to the border to ask for asylum.

White supremacists, also known as nationalists, think diversity is code for extinction of white male superiority. They are afraid of change and of others' rights. To be a nationalist is to insist that Christianity is paramount, that everyone should think and act like you do, and to make outsiders unwelcome. In other words, while America was formed as a melting pot; it should not be one today.

America has been the global moral leader; under Trump, it is abrogating that role, doing only what he claims is in this country's best interests, although he is often wrong. Trump does not put the American people first; he puts his anger, distrust and fear of have-nots first.

That is why he did not try to get along with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has just announced she will resign, leaving the post of leader of the free world vacant.

That is why he applauded Brexit, which will split up the European Union. That is why he admires Vladimir Putin's efforts to remake Russia as an aggressive, militarily strong, conquering powerhouse. That is why he pulled out of the Paris climate accord. That is why he said nothing when the World Wildlife Federation said the world wildlife populations fell by 60 percent from 1970. That is why he has started trade wars and imposed high tariffs on goods and services that Americans import. That is why he continues to excoriate political opponents and stir hatred and fear among his supporters. He is incapable of telling the truth unless it serves his interests. Seventy percent of the rest of the world does not trust him.

Yet, Trump is riding a global wave. More leaders such as those in Poland, Hungary, Italy and, most recently, Brazil are self-described nationalists. Brazil's new president, Jair Bolsonaro, has made a habit of denouncing women, gays, and Brazilians of color while espousing guns, dictatorships, killing alleged criminals, and civil war. You won't be surprised to know that Trump immediately called Bolsonaro with exuberant congratulations. Like Trump, Bolsonaro campaigned on dividing his country and had, a friend acknowledged, "no real strategy."

After stressing that he is a "nationalist," Trump said this election is about him and is exhorting voters to vote for Republicans again to give him full control — of the White House, the Congress, the Supreme Court, foreign policy, and all of us.

Each of us must choose.

Ann McFeatters is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service. She can be reached at