Patriotism v. Nationalism
Though at times deployed synonymously, we must distinguish between two separate and, I claim, contradictory terms.
A “Patriot” according to my copy of Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary is:
- a person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests, and
- a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, [and here is the important difference] especially of individual rights against presumed interference by the government. That is the definition of a “patriot.”
A “Nationalist,” according to my dictionary is
- a person who has devotion and loyalty to one’s own nation, and
- a person who has excessive patriotism or chauvinism, which is a zealous and aggressive patriotism or enthusiasm for military glory, a biased devotion to any group, attitude, or cause.
I find the current political tenor very disconcerting as candidates, and in particular Donald Trump, attack, demonize, stereotype, and scapegoat not only other candidates, but also entire groups of people whom they blame for causing the problems of the country.
Democracy demands an educated electorate. Democracy demands responsibility on the part of the electorate to critically examine our politicians so they can make truly informed decisions.
During economic downturns, charismatic and not-so charismatic leaders attempt to exploit the fears of the public in their quests for power and control. Conservative political discourse centers on “F” words: Faith, Family, Freedom, and the Flag. This set of buzzwords comprise the foundation on which politicians tell us we should decide who is truly worthy of our respect and of our votes.
We must cut through the coded and often very explicit xenophobic, racist, sexist, misogynistic, heterosexist, ableist, and classist language, for often when politicians use the words “poor,” “welfare,” “inner city,” “food stamps,” “entitlements,” “bad neighborhoods,” “foreign,” “illegal aliens,” they tap into many white people’s anxieties and past racist teachings of people of color. In addition, the buzz phrase, “personal responsibility” now has become a catch phrase to justify cutting benefits to people with disabilities, older people, and those who have fallen on hard times and need assistance.
These politicians would rather blame poverty within our communities and low achievement in our schools on the “cultures” of those suffering from the inequities. This “cultural deficit model” distracts us from interrogating and truly addressing the enormous structural inequities, which these politicians would have us multiply if we were to follow their lead.
The United States is a beautiful and noble concept, a vibrant idea, a vital and enduring vision, a process and progression toward, but we have not yet attained, not yet reached that concept, that idea, that vision. We are, rather, a work in process.
And this is possibly what separates the patriot from the nationalist, for the patriot understands and witnesses the divide, the gap between the reality and the promise and the potential. The nationalist, on the other hand, is either not aware that a gap even exists or stands in denial between the potential and the reality.
I interpret a true Patriot as one who, indeed, loves her or his country, but also one who sees the way things are, and one who works for change to make things better. A patriot also views other countries with respect and admiration, as valued members of an interconnected and interdependent global community.
So yes, indeed, William Johnson was correct in his assessment of Donald Trump as an “American nationalist.” Possibly, this is why Trump holds other fascist nationalists in such high esteem such as Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and yes, Benjamin Netanyahu.
To view and download my “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy” PowerPoint presentation, click here.