Subjective Nationalisms: Structuring “Self” and “Other” in the Emotional Appeals of U.S. Right-Wing Political Discourse


  • Susannah Mandel Independent Scholar, USA


Discourse analysis, nationalism, populism, political emotions, Trumpism


As in Europe, democracy in the U.S. is both mobilized and threatened by appeals to emotion (to a degree that, indeed, calls into question how “deliberative” U.S. mechanisms are).
As an American and Americanist who will be present (and presenting) in Europe this October, my perspective is necessarily rooted in how these issues are playing out in the U.S. At the same time, I am deeply interested in absorbing and deepening my understanding of these issues from [a] European perspective[s]—in part because the name we apply to an increasingly significant dynamic in the U.S. is rooted in European (or, as one might phrase it from here, “Old World”) views of nation, people, and the “structures of feeling” [1] understood to connect the two. “Nationalism,” as a term, falls in and out of use in the U.S., but is currently seeing a sharper rise than at any time since the 1960s [2]. A problem here, however, is that—for reasons that in Europe apply less strongly if at all—the fundamental meaning of U.S. “nationalism” has never been clear, and it seems to describe a different entity in each historical moment that pulls it into use. Its construction in the Cold War, which primarily framed an idealized ideology of globally-relevant “American-style” democracy and “freedoms” against the restrictions and coercions of a conceived Communism, is, if anything, almost opposed to the anti-colonial “nationalism” of the U.S.’s revolutionary and nation-building period. Meanwhile, the contemporary “nationalism” used to describe the structures of belief and feeling evoked by Donald Trump in his base is a construct rooted in ethnicity and religion: a “white” “Christian” “U.S.” “nationalism” that mirrors neither its predecessors, nor any specific phenomenon among the nations of Europe since, perhaps, the Crusades. My aim is an exploratory outline of the emotional rhetoric of “nationalism” used in contemporary U.S. right-wing politics, with specific focus on the lacunae and internal contradictions we find when trying to parse its referents as “a nation,” with the secondary and follow-up goal of seeking clearer understanding of its parallels and contrasts to “nationalist” emotional rhetoric in the context of European political and media discourse.


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