Kevin Williamson riffs on the term in The Nationalism Show in National Review:
As I have written at some length, I find the city of Washington, D.C., repugnant. But what I find repugnant about it is what many other people find magnificent about it: the monuments, the grand buildings, and the impossible-to-miss (often brutal) nationalist aesthetic of the place: Paul Cret’s Federal Reserve Building would not have been entirely out of place in the Berlin that Hitler dreamt of nor in the new Rome that Mussolini might have built. To me, these exercises in giganticism and severity are profoundly unrepublican and contrary to what I imagine to be the intended mode of national life. To establish a republic and then to build a neo-pagan temple (we call it the Capitol) in which those who achieve political power convene to worship themselves and that power was, to my mind, perverse. George Washington was no pharaoh, but we built a pharaonic monument to him, and an even more absurd one to Abraham Lincoln, who surely would have been embarrassed by his posthumous apotheosis. Needless to say, these are not universally held views. Many people find Washington magnificent, and its grand sights fill them with feelings of love and awe.
I do not wish to be awed, neither by my government nor by my nation. (“I mean to live my life an obedient man,” William F. Buckley Jr. wrote, “but obedient to God, subservient to the wisdom of my ancestors; never to the authority of political truths arrived at yesterday at the voting booth.”) But there is a market for awe. To be awed is to be carried beyond one’s self, to be given a glimpse of something great.
Is the nation great? The Capitol dome is a great dome, but I know who’s in there.
But then there’s the flag, and the Washington monument, and the troops, who in addition to fighting the nation’s wars bear the burden of being the vessels of so many of our greatest national anxieties. A friend who is a lifelong military man says that he wishes sincerely that people would stop thanking him for his service as though doing so were a kind of mandatory social convention somewhere between “Welcome to Starbucks!” and “Have a nice day!”
I am grateful to the men and women of our military for their service, but armies are only expedients, necessary evils. They should be kept out of sight for the same reason I keep the guns out of sight in my home. A military parade does not display greatness—it displays power. And that may be where I most part company with our new nationalists. To my eye, there is more American greatness in a New England town hall than in all of Washington, and more American greatness in an Oregon apple orchard or a Rotary meeting than there is in all the tanks and rockets that ever have been. (If that sounds unpatriotic to you, then take it up with General Eisenhower.) The Washington aesthetic and the Trump mode are rooted in a different kind of attitude, a masterful one with a taste for domination. That is in fact what some nationalists seem to mean by “American greatness”: the power and the will to dominate. Hence the bizarre pettiness in foreign policy and the nickel-and-dime approach to trade, the superstitious conflation of political power and virility, the preoccupation with status and appearances (the ability to “project power” is a telling phrase), the neurotic fear that someone, somewhere, is getting over on us, nationally.