|Click here to send the text of this page to a friend.||Click here to return to the Tom Holsinger's Strategy & Politics index/archive.|
The Bush Administration and American Nationalism
by Tom Holsinger
November 20, 2002
The nationalistic feelings of the American people pose threats and opportunities for the Bush Administration in the war on terror. Which of those are realized is within the latter's control to some extent. Its failure to acknowledge the nationalism issue has resulted in actions which inadvertently magnify the threats while blinding it to the opportunities, even for long-term partisan advantage.
America's war with terror is unique in our history in that its people are directly involved. The high degree of their emotional involvement is best illustrated by the spontaneously created shrine to the passengers and cabin crew of United Airlines Flight 93. That has major political and sociological significance.
What most drives this unprecedented emotional involvement is that the American people are targets at home. Such attack is the overwhelming issue in the war with terror, and the heart of the threats and opportunities for the Bush Administration. It incites a converging response from three different major themes in American nationalism: (a) the militia tradition most recently exemplified by Flight 93 wherein citizens attack domestic threats themselves without waiting for government action, (b) uniquely American "populism" in which large segments of the population band together to force government action blocked by Madisonian factions/special interests, and (c) the "Jacksonian" tradition named after President Andrew Jackson in Walter Russell Mead's Divine Providence.
The Jacksonian trait most pertinent here is its quasi-tribal, and brutal, distinction between members of the community and outsiders. A perfect example of this distinction, and of justified concern about rising Jacksonian feelings, is a bill recently introduced in Congress to strip Al Qaeda members John Walker Lindh and Jose Padilla of their American citizenship.
America's enemies abroad can only be dealt with by our government, but foreign enemies appearing in our homeland can be and, on 9/11, were, attacked by the American people. They know full well that denying entry to 20-45 year-old Arab males would prevent most terrorist attacks here and that deporting those already present would prevent almost all such attacks. People do not understand why their government outright refuses to do either (it's because too many special interests benefit from illegal immigration). Further terrorism here would create a significant possibility of a populist political uprising against the Bush Administration plus vigilante action against Arab and Muslim immigrants to get them all deported.
The Bush Administration's conspicuous homeland security failures, notably in airports, are also setting it up for this. Much of the problem - illegal immigration and lack of controls over resident aliens - really is intractable, but the Administration need not solve this now. Merely addressing the issue through use of Teddy Roosevelt's "bully pulpit" would provide some protection from blame in the event of future terrorist attacks in America, and offers significant partisan advantages if no such attacks materialize. It is also possible to do some effective things now.
The Bush Administration's other vulnerabilities here are more its responsibility, but action might be pending. Reports prior to the 2002 election indicated that a general shakeup of the intelligence/security community was planned for after the election. Homeland Security adviser Tom Ridge was reportedly in London recently exploring the possibility of giving the FBI's counterintelligence/counterterrorism mission to a new agency modelled after Britain's MI5. It also appears the Administration will finally push for enactment of its proposed Homeland Security Department.
This new department would be more effective, without harming citizen rights, if resident aliens, legal and illegal, lack full constitutional protection for offenses committable only by aliens which it has exclusive jurisdiction to prosecute. State and local police, the FBI, and state and Justice Department prosecutors, would have to give aliens full Constitutional rights during investigation and prosecution of ordinary criminal offenses, as citizens can be charged with those too. But Homeland Security law enforcement officers and prosecutors wouldn't have to do so for offenses under new criminal, immigration and terrorism laws which apply only to aliens. It is also possible to assert extra-territorial jurisdiction against non-resident aliens under the same new laws. That jurisdiction already exists in many instances, notably concerning foreign narcotics conspiracies to commit crimes in America. The Drug Enforcement Administration's job would be much easier if aliens are not given full Constitutional protection. Terrorist and narcotics threats are merging.
Technological solutions to population control problems, notably "chipping" (pet ID's for people) with millimeter wave radar sensors and internet style data nets, are also emerging. Americans love technological solutions, especially when those involve vast expenditures of public funds which generous contractors share with deserving Congressmen. This might also change the gridlock of Madisonian factions on illegal immigration, especially if some factions are enlisted to operate surveillance systems for resident aliens and perhaps American felons on probation/parole. The mutually rewarding alliance of California's prison guard union with Governor Gray Davis is instructive.
Such changes would enhance homeland security while giving the Bush Administration some political insulation in the event of more terrorism here. Public relations gestures would help with the latter too, especially concerning the Jacksonians, and that is where partisan gains are possible. Putting into words what is in peoples' hearts and minds, but not their mouths, focuses public energy while being marvelous PR. The message should be denunciation of Islamofacism and exposure of the lies of its sympathizers, as shown by President Reagan's successful confrontational speeches in bringing down the Soviet Union.
The best venues for these speeches will be those which produce the most partisan benefits for the Bush Administration - American colleges where anti-American and anti-Israel demonstrations by resident Arabs (students & immigrants) well and truly inflame the thoroughly tribal Jacksonians. War on terror, etc., speeches by Administration officials here will gladden Jacksonians, inspire emulation by college patriots and, if repeated enough, motivate college administrators to enforce existing rules concerning civil discourse. Such well-publicized confrontations with foreign anti-American demonstrators in America will encourage Jacksonians to vote Republican and produce other partisan benefits.
Next - the World's Coming Encounter With Andrew Jackson.