Donald Trump’s nationalism puts the world in grave danger. What this country needs is a patriot.

Donald Trump
Donald Trump Photo: Shutterstock

“My first acts as your next President will be to Close the Border, DRILL, BABY, DRILL, and Free January 6 Hostages being wrongfully imprisoned!” Trump wrote on his misnamed Truth Social website on March 11, 2024.

The imprisoned January 6th insurrectionists are neither “hostages” nor are they, as Trump has called them, “patriots.” All those jailed were tried and convicted in legitimate and independent houses of justice with qualified and non-partisan jurists.

Patriots do not attack police officers who are doing their job by protecting human life and property under their charge. Patriots do not wedge and smash police officers between doors. Patriots do not attempt to gauge out the eyes of the people who honorably serve to maintain law and order.

Patriots do not shout racist and antisemitic rants, call for the hanging of the Vice President of the United States, call for the murder of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, or attempt to intimidate and injure elected officials and their staff.

Patriots do not defecate on the floors and walls of the national Capitol, the people’s house.

Hostages are generally innocent bystanders who happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time as opposed to insurrectionists whose intent is to disrupt the peaceful transfer of power.

Patriotism vs. nationalism

Nationalism is not the same as patriotism. It’s a perversion of patriotism. Nationalism, the belief system held by those who attacked us [referring to a fictional terrorist attack by white supremacists], promotes the idea that inclusion and diversity represent weakness, that the only way to succeed is to give blind allegiance to the supremacy of one race over all others.” -Téa Leoni as Secretary of State Elizabeth McCord in “Madam Secretary”

The 50 stars and 13 strips on our flag represent a collective image of the United States of America, of E Pluribus Unum (“from many, one”). In this regard, Merriam-Webster defines “patriotism” as “a love for or devotion to one’s country,” and “nationalism” as “loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups. ”

Donald Trump embraced the term “nationalism” in a speech on October 23, 2018, during his presidency: “A globalist is a person that wants the globe to do well, frankly, not caring about our country so much. And you know what? We can’t have that,” he said. “You know, they have a word. It sort of became old-fashioned. It’s called a nationalist. And I say, really, we’re not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, OK? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing – use that word. Use that word.”

It is commonly known that Trump rarely reads, and his grounding in history is virtually non-existent. But a qualification to serve as the President of the United States involves at least a basic grasp of world history. Ignorance on the part of the most powerful person on the planet can result in catastrophe.

His close ties to John Bolton and Steve Bannon – two self-described “nationalists” – demonstrated by association his deep familiarity with the term.

Donald Trump based his motto of “Make America Great Again” on his notion of “America first.”

Historically, the “America First” movement was organized in the late 1930s and ended in 1941 as the leading isolationist pressure group for non-intervention in WWII. It advocated for an impregnable defense around the United States to keep the country strong and safe from outsiders, an ideology Trump has embraced.  

The America First movement was highly controversial for the antisemitic and pro-fascist views of some of its most prominent speakers, leaders, and members.

German nationalism, for example, resulted in the Second World War and was constructed by a party and its leader who manipulated a fearful and angry population to scapegoat others – the Jews – for the nation’s severe economic problems.

Donald Trump’s march to the White House continues to center on promoting a form of extreme nationalism (jingoism, chauvinism) intent on exciting xenophobic, racist, and antisemitic fears and ideologies.

His appeals to “nationalism” (with isolationism, building walls, and talk of “sh*thole countries”) is presented in the guise of “popularism” and intended to feed on people’s fears and prejudices. These efforts have resulted in the segregation of people and nations from one another, along with threats and violence. Trump continues to attack and separate from long-established allies while showing obsessive admiration for tyrannical dictators.

His invitation and meeting with Hungarian strongman president, Viktor Orbán, at Mar-a-Lago on March 8, 2024, attests to his admiration for and quest to embody the authoritarianism of Orbán and Trump’s other besties: Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.

Among his tyrannical and xenophobic actions, Orbán has blocked the independent press and has called for the creation of Hungary as a homogenous nation by banning asylum seekers and other non-Hungarian refugees (no E Pluribus Unum wanted there).

“We must state that we do not want to be diverse,” he said in a 2018 speech. “We do not want our own color, traditions, and national culture to be mixed with those of others.”

Echoing these exact sentiments, Trump recently railed that immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our country.”

“Nobody has ever seen anything like we’re witnessing right now [with the influx of immigrants],” he said. “It is a very sad thing for our country. It’s poisoning the blood of our country. It’s so bad, and people coming in with disease. People are coming in with every possible thing that you could have.”

Trump is now bilingual, having learned strongmen speak along with his scant facility with English.

And Orbán, Putin, and Kim look on and maybe even add pointers as Trump vows to roll back even further many of the rights and protections marginalized peoples have tirelessly fought for over the past decades: reproductive rights, voting rights, citizenship rights, human rights, anti-torture guarantees, immigrant rights, rights of unreasonable search and seizure, rights of assembly, disability rights, freedom of religion, transgender rights, marriage equality and equal protection under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.  

Like other nationalist authoritarians have done, Trump scapegoated folks of already disenfranchised identities (and then some) as the internal and external enemies of the United States: Muslims and anyone from Muslim-majority countries, Mexicans and all Latinx people, urban “thugs,” the press, Somalis, President Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Democrats, the ACLU, immigrants, anyone who disagrees with the 45th President, Robert Mueller and his panel of investigators, Antifa, a supposed “angry liberal mob,” and even his own loyal vice president.

“We pledge to you that we will root out the communists, Marxists, fascists, and the radical left thugs that live like vermin within the confines of our country,” he told a New Hampshire crowd in November 2023.

At the most recent CPAC (Conservation Political Action Conference) meeting held at the end of February and supported by the group USA Next, Trump advisor Stephen Moore asserted that “one of the most evil left-wing organizations in America is the AARP [American Association for Retired Persons], the largest organization protecting the rights of seniors.

What? Is it that the AARP lobbies for the protection of entitlement programs like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security, programs that Republicans perennially attempt to put on the chopping block?

Trump resents and attacks the political, media, and intellectual “elites” to the point of instigating scorn and harassment of the “elite media” covering Trump rallies. And his near-obsessive calls for “law and order” involve draconian (and unconstitutional) measures of surveillance, torture, and arrest.

Trump fanned the flames of controversy to a “white”-hot intensity over Colin Kaepernick and the movement he spawned in taking a knee during the National Anthem at NFL games to highlight the deplorable treatment of people of color in our nation, and specifically, the deadly police actions taken against unarmed men of color.

As is the case with other “nationalist” leaders, Trump deployed his adult children and son-in-law as close trusted political operatives, who met with visiting diplomats and traveled to foreign capitals to negotiate political and business deals, plus his continuously unresolved conflict-of-interest issues and “emoluments” breeches between his position as President and his worldwide business interests, with so many probes into corruption it has become a common occurrence.   

Donald Trump certainly is no patriot.

Why do Trump’s legions follow him?

Authoritarianism as a form of government is characterized by strong central power and limited political freedoms. These regimes may be either autocratic (concentrated in the hands of one person) or oligarchic (small number of powerful, often rich people) and may be based upon the rule of a party or the military.

In the late 1940s, researchers led by Theodor W. Adorno studied the historical conditions that paved the way for the rise of fascist regimes in the 1930s, World War II, and the Holocaust. They theorized about individuals who supported the growth of fascist regimes.

They suggested that people of a certain personality type, which they labeled the “authoritarian personality,” were most ripe for extremism, and in this case, that meant those most susceptible to anti-Jewish prejudice and anti-democratic political beliefs and policies.

These individuals suspended their autonomy and critical thinking facilities, and they pledged obedience, allegiance, and freedom to a powerful leader or social institution for the promise of a future reminiscent of a (mythic) idealistic past of economic, political, social, cultural, and personal security, where their “ingroup” won and led and “outgroups” served obediently and acquiesced to “ingroup” needs and demands.

In other words, they surrender their freedom for the promise of social and personal security, which usually includes suppressing and even oppressing those outside the circle, the “others.”

Now enters the would-be mighty authoritarian strongman, Donald John Trump.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, Trump painted a gruesome image of a post-apocalyptic America, replete with vicious marauding gangs, gunshots whizzing through inner cities, decrepit crumbling structures and highways, rampant poverty, declining health care systems, imminent terrorist attacks, and ruthless criminal-drug-dealing-rapist invaders from our southern border.

He incited violence at his rallies, ultimately leading to the deadly insurrection by his fascist militia at the Capitol on January 6, 2021, and his second impeachment. He stoked fear and stereotyped. He scapegoated all Muslims and so-called “illegal aliens” after promising to punish women who had abortions and the doctors who performed them. He asserted that he would re-establish the Supreme Court to an ultra-conservative majority.

And after promising to reverse both Roe v. Wade and marriage equality, and to “Make America Great Again,” Heir Donald non-so-solemnly proclaimed during his meandering diatribe in 2016 at the Republican National Convention: “I am your voice! I alone can fix it. I will restore law and order.”

Trump never asked anything of his supporters other than their total loyalty and complete faith in him. And the authoritarian personalities followed brown-shirted in lockstep.

Trump had his followers wax nostalgic for the television shows of yore: “Father Knows Best,” “The Donna Reed Show,” “Ozzy and Harriet,” “Leave it to Beaver,” “The Brady Bunch,” “Happy Days,” and “Full House,” all reflecting the mainstream popular image of the American family as white and middle class, with a nice home in the suburbs and all family members accepting their assigned racial and gendered scripts.

Democracy, though, demands an educated electorate. Democracy demands responsibility on the part of the electorate to critically examine their politicians and the issues of the day so they can make truly informed decisions. Democracy demands we never relinquish our freedom and authority for some promise of security by returning to a fairytale past.

Those peaceful bygone days, where lovely children played in beautifully landscaped yards within lily-white neighborhoods surrounded by unicorns strolling down the freshly cleansed sidewalks, never existed – except in the mind of the cult believers.

Let us never forget that this nation reflects the diversity of the entire world: the traditions, the languages, the cultures, the religions, the belief systems, the totality of the human experience. All of these must be acknowledged, supported, cherished, valued, and nurtured.

This is who we are and what we must protect.

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