President Trump delivered one of the most important speeches of his young presidency on Thursday. Billed as "Remarks to the people of Poland," the address was as clear a statement we've heard of Trump's nation-state populism. This philosophy, which differs in emphasis and approach from that of other post-Cold War Republican presidents, is both enduring and undefined. Reaching as far back as Andrew Jackson, and carrying through, in different ways, William Jennings Bryan, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Spiro Agnew, Ronald Reagan, Ross Perot, Patrick Buchanan, James Webb, and Sarah Palin, the nation-state populist tradition has suffered from its lack of intellectuals, professors, and wordsmiths. But that is beginning to change.
The most important concept in nation-state populism is the people. These are citizens of the folk community, membership in which crosses ethnic, racial, and sectarian lines. Note, for example, Trump's reference to the Nazis' systematic murder of "millions of Poland's Jewish citizens, along with countless others, during that brutal occupation." Or as Trump put it, in a different context, in his Inaugural Address: "Whether we are black or brown or white, we all bleed the same red blood of patriots, we all enjoy the same glorious freedoms, and we all salute the same great American flag."
Together, the people constitute the nation. Borders define the nation's physical extent, but not its nature. Indeed, the nation may exist independent of statehood or political sovereignty. "While Poland could be invaded and occupied," Trump said, "and its borders even erased from the map, it could never be erased from history or from your hearts. In those dark days, you had lost your land but you never lost your pride." Nor is the nation always represented in the corridors of power. "Today, we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another," Trump said at the inaugural, "or from one party to another—but we are transferring power from Washington, D.C, and giving it back to you, the American people."
Poland and the United States are among the "free nations" that make up the "civilization" of "the West." And the West is unified, not only by "bonds of culture, faith, and tradition" and "history, culture, and memory," but also by shared values. These include "individual freedom and sovereignty," innovation, creativity, and exploration, meritocracy, "the rule of law," the "right to free speech and free expression," female empowerment, and "faith and family." And, "above all, we value the dignity of every human life, protect the rights of every person, and share the hope of every soul to live in freedom."
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