The 4th of July brings fireworks, cookouts, and ponderings on whose independence we’re celebrating if you’re like me. Either way, it’s celebrated as America’s birthday of sorts. With that, American flags are seen in every corner and patriotism come into focus.
George Carlin once said, “Pride should be reserved for something you achieve or attain on your own, not something that happens by accident of birth.” I tend to agree with him, even as I clutch the trinkets of my homeland closer to my chest during moments of nostalgia.
In itself, pride can be a great thing.
Take the reactive pride of the LGBTQ community for example, who use it as a tool to reaffirm their existence and demand their rights. Even when I hear, “Proud to Be an American,” and cringe as I mentally list the atrocities committed by the United States throughout history, I understand it. Patriotism is a powerful sentiment that fosters brotherhood and a sense of community between people.
When patriotism, however, turns a blind eye to injustice, it becomes ugly. Its product, nationalism, is a very different beast.
The words are often used interchangeably in the media without thought for clarification. Patriotism can be simply defined as a love for one’s country. It’s healthy pride. Like what listening to the Hamilton soundtrack on repeat does to you.
On the other hand, nationalism is the belief that one’s country is superior. Through believing in your country’s superiority, a dichotomy emerges in which every other country is inferior and in direct competition.
That tribal “us” vs “them” mentality is dangerous because it clouds the ability to adequately judge your country’s actions unbiasedly. Facts stop mattering as long as you’re doing or at least trying to be better than everyone else. When you have the hype of being “the greatest country in the world,” this becomes almost second nature.
Another George, of the Orwell variety this time, goes further into this in his “Notes on Nationalism.” He argues that nationalists think “in terms of competitive prestige,” whose thoughts are on “victories, defeats, triumphs, and humiliations.”
Those who’ve heard Donald Drumpf chant the word “winning” in speeches as if he’s Charlie Sheen in 2011 will find this all too familiar.
Nationalism is usually written off as exuberant patriotism, but evidence points otherwise.
It’s been a fast-growing and worrisome political trend in the past decade throughout Europe and the United States. Greece’s Golden Dawn Party came in with the third most votes during their last elections and Austria’s Freedom Party presidential candidate Norbert Hofer almost won, with 49.7% of the vote. His political platform includes putting “Austria First” by building a fence on the southern border and stopping “the invasion of Muslims.”
(Does this sound familiar?)
And then there’s Brexit, fueled by the hyper-paranoia of being colonized in turn like they’ve done to others for centuries. The fallout from this decision will affect generations to come, but in the minds of those who chose to Leave, at least their fate is in their hands.
The connection between nationalism and hate cannot be stressed enough. Nationalism is used as a scapegoat when discretely trying to evoke and perpetuate racism, sexism, and other forms of systematic oppression. In the Leave campaign, one of their main promises that galvanized voters was “controlling the borders” and stopping other EU citizens from “taking their jobs.”
In the days after the vote, hate crimes skyrocketed.
One doesn’t have to look so far though. Even in the “melting pot” of the United States, when people shout to “take their country back” and to “Make America Great Again” they mean to do so from the perceived threat that is people of color. The freedom of speech they feel is policed is their inability to discriminate freely without issue. When white supremacy has always been the norm, equality feels like tyranny.
Coming from a country with limited freedom of speech, I am grateful to live in a place that allows me to voice my opinions without fear. Nevertheless, that will not silence me and allow me to turn a blind eye to my country’s most glaring problems.
If you really wanted to see progress, you wouldn’t be a nationalist.