In 1945, George Orwell distinguished between “nationalism” and “patriotism.” Nationalism, he argued, is the belief that your nation should dominate others. It “is inseparable from the desire for power.” A nationalist, Orwell argued, “thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige … his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations.” Patriotism, by contrast, involves “devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one … has no wish to force on other people.” Orwell’s explanation of patriotism is brief. But his implication is that while nationalism is about the relationship between your country and other countries, patriotism is about the relationship between your country and yourself. It derives from the Latin pater, meaning “father.” Just as devotion to family requires placing its well-being above your own, devotion to country—patriotism—extends that principle to the nation as a whole.
Orwell’s dichotomy has its critics. But it helps to explain Donald Trump, the most nationalistic, and least patriotic, president in American history.
Trump has elevated nationalism above the competing principles that once guided conservative public policy. George W. Bush’s Christian moralism, for instance, led him to increase funding for AIDS in Africa and to declare, in a 2006 speech on immigration that, “every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say.” His belief in unfettered capitalism led him to embrace China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization and sign a free-trade agreement with Central American states. These statements and policies reflected a willingness to occasionally subordinate American sovereignty to other values that Republicans held dear.