This is a commentary that I have dreaded writing for decades.
Over the last year, the rising spectre of ultra-nationalism has been wending its way into mainstream American political life. What is ultra-nationalism? It’s an extreme form of nationalism that elevates the interests and superiority of one country or its people above all others.
It is the very antithesis of what the people who won World War II and the Cold War, every president from Franklin Roosevelt to George H.W. Bush, believed in. They saw the future of mankind built upon cooperative nations and peoples, working together to ensure safety, respect for borders and protection from war.
Its symbols were NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization; the United Nations; and global understanding. Free trade was a hallmark, and it led to an incredibly prosperous world, where a rising tide lifted all boats.
In general, the architects of that world vision were the people who waged World War II or the children of those patriots. They understood that the ravages of ultra-nationalism can lead to discrimination, hatred, fear — and taken to its ultimate level, holocaust. And they realized the damage done by “good” Germans and Italians who sat back silently as Fascism spread its poison across Europe in the 1930s.
Jewish survivors of Germany’s effort to exterminate their people adopted a phrase that became a common expression in my own youth: “Never again.” That’s why one of Washington, D.C.’s most visited shrines is the Holocaust Museum.
On Saturday in Washington, emboldened by the most recent presidential election, the alt-right — a term for the white nationalist movement — displayed for the world to see their frightening brand of hate.
Richard Spencer (pictured above), president of the ultra-nationalist (or alt-right) National Policy Institute, spewed a virulent blend of racist imagery, misogynist references to Hillary Clinton and chilling anti-Semitism. Then he raised his arm in a salute and declared: “Hail Trump! Hail our People! Hail victory!”
Elections have results, the old saying goes. President-elect Trump has appointed Steve Bannon to be his top political adviser, a man who once objected to his daughters attending a Los Angeles school because, he claimed, there were too many Jewish students, his ex-wife said in divorce proceedings.
There’s more to be said about all of this in coming weeks. The nominee for Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has such a seamy record on race relations that in 1986, he was rejected by the Senate Judiciary Committee – the first nominee for judge by President Reagan to be repudiated. And the committee was dominated by Republicans.
I dreaded writing this commentary because I have always believed that America is, in Ronald Reagan’s words, “a shining city on a hill.” A nation of immigrants, a wonderful experiment in democracy. What we’re seeing in this autumn of unsettling news is something else, something perilous that I do not intend to sit back and silently observe.
Keith Runyon is a longtime Louisville journalist and former editorial page editor of The Courier-Journal.
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