After Donald Trump described himself as a nationalist in 2018, the Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin replied that nationalism is not only “contrary to the principles of a multiethnic, multiracial democracy” but also “antithetical to America’s founding creed.” On this question, however, the preeminent founder, George Washington, had more in common with Trump’s position than Rubin’s. Though Washington never used the term “nationalism,” the nation—its identity, interests, and honor—was central to his statesmanship.

 

National Interest

The most famous expression of Washington’s nationalism can be found in his Farewell Address of 1796. Although it is common for Enlightenment-era figures to view government as an artificial human contrivance, devised solely to secure individual rights, Washington did not speak of the nation in such terms. For him, America was something given and precious—his “beloved country” to which he was bound by an “inviolable attachment.” The nation, he taught, had a “right to concentrate” not only the calculated support of its people, but their “affections” as well. It was based not only on common “interest” but also common “sympathy.” Its identity was predicated not only on common “political principles” but

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