President Trump on Tuesday doubled down on his use of the word “nationalist” to describe himself, pushing back against critics who have argued that the term is a nod to white supremacists.
“No, I never heard that theory about being a nationalist,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office when asked whether his use of the word was intended as a dog whistle to white nationalists. “I’ve heard them all. But I’m somebody that loves our country.”
Trump used the word during a campaign rally Monday night, declaring to a crowd in Houston, “You know what I am? I’m a nationalist.”
It was not the first time he has used the word, but his full-on embrace of it two weeks before the midterm election has raised questions about whether he is seeking to stoke racist and anti-immigrant sentiment.
The term is generally associated with nationalist movements in Europe and elsewhere that have promoted a narrowly defined national identity linked to race and ethnicity.
Trump acknowledged Monday that “we’re not supposed to use that word” but then said Tuesday, “I think it should be brought back.”
In a lengthy response to a reporter’s question, Trump appeared to give his own definition to the word, arguing that it refers to how the United States interacts with other countries on trade and other issues.
“For many years, other countries that are allies of ours . . . they have not treated our country fairly,” Trump said, pointing to U.S. contributions to NATO and what he described as trade deals in which the U.S. has been “duped” by other countries. “So in that sense, I am absolutely a nationalist, and I’m proud of it.”
Some Democrats on Tuesday sharply criticized Trump’s use of the term.
In an appearance on CNN, Rep. Gregory W. Meeks (D-N.Y.) advised Trump not to use the word, which he descibed as “very dangerous language” that “reminds me of the kind of words that came from people like Hitler.”
“The kind of people that this president seems to like — those who are repressive dictators — those are the individuals that generally use that kind of phrase and those kind of words,” Meeks said.