When I was nine years old, the United States of America was celebrating its bicentennial. With it being so soon after the Vietnam War and Watergate, America was not really in the celebrating mood. Toss in the assassination of two Kennedys, and Martin Luther King Jr. in the previous decade, a shitty economy, the oil embargo, and you can see why a big nationwide bicentennial celebration was really just not in the cards, at least at the federal level. Hell, even the pride of landing men on the moon had faded into the history books at this point.
In 1975 the Freedom Train started a tour through the country. I saw it in August of 1975 at a rail siding on Packers Avenue behind some warehouses near the airport. About all I remember of it was begging my dad to take me. We piled into the 1973 Plymouth Fury III, my dad complaining the whole time that it would be packed with people and would be expensive. We arrived and there was literally no one there. I really do not remember any of the artifacts that were on display—but I do know the purpose of the exhibits was to instill a sense of pride into Americans at a time when we weren’t really proud of our country—the Freedom Train was really the only national celebration of the bicentennial.
Growing up my dad, a WWII veteran, would instill many of his values about this nation in me. He would often say that our country had made a lot of mistakes, but we must be doing something right with people still wanting to come here in search of a better life.
Patriotism is quite simply a love of country—it means you know our nation has faults, but if we work together we can overcome the faults and become a better nation. A patriotic person recognizes that we are part of an international community, that other nations may do some things better than us, and we do some things better than other nations. To me, the greatest feeling of patriotism was watching the 1980 Olympic Hockey team playing, and beating the Soviet Hockey Team. I was 12 years old during that game, yelling U.S.A.! U.S.A! U.S.A! with my mom and dad in our living room along with millions of other Americans. That was, and is, patriotism. We were proud of our national hockey team; No one ever thought they could pull off the upset against the Soviets, but had they lost, we would have been disappointed but would have gotten on with our lives.
Forty-three years later and our nation, and our core beliefs as a nation are under attack. The right has confused patriotism with nationalism. Patriotism is rather harmless; It is like being a Packers fan, where you love your team but know there are other teams out there, and anything can happen on any given Sunday where maybe the Packers won’t be the best team. Nationalism is the fanatic—he loves his team so much that he is dangerous about it, constantly boasting about his team, never acknowledging that another team could possibly beat his team. When his team loses he makes excuses, drinks too much, and becomes violent with his spouse.
We see this with Trump supporters today. They have crossed over the thin line that divides patriotism from nationalism. I was walking through a casino in Las Vegas this last weekend and an older white male (I would guess late 50s, early 60s) pulled off his Make America Great Again hat and began taunting bar patrons, pointing at his hat and yelling “Trump! Trump!” I don’t know what, if anything preceded this, but this person had clearly crossed the line into nationalism.
Why is nationalism dangerous? Nationalism puts a country above all other countries. Your country can do no wrong—one only need to look at Nazi Germany, fascist Italy, or Imperial Japan to understand how nationalism can go off the rails. Trump uses nationalistic language in all of his speeches. He pits Americans against Americans, and then pits Americans against everyone else.
It should surprise no one about the Facebook page recently found that has been used by Customs and Border Patrol officers to demean immigrants and asylum seekers. We are now living in a nation where the actions of CPB officers are being defended by those on the right, we live in a country that has fucking concentration camps. These kinds of things grew out of Trump and his nationalistic views. He knows he has no ideas, so he has to sell fear, fear of the other. It matters not what, or who, he tells you to fear—it just matters that he wants to make you fear something so you do not see the man behind the curtain pulling the levers of power to benefit himself, and his circle.
I fear that as a nation, we have crossed the line from patriotism to nationalism—Trump, and his acolytes are taking us down a very dangerous path. I am writing this before Trump’s hijacked July 4th celebration. A day that should be about our independence from the crown. It should be a day about patriotism—a celebration of America. Instead, Trump is making it look like something that would be more at home in the former Soviet Union. We should be watching fireworks, playing with sparklers, and having a BBQ. I hope we have not gone too far over the line and we can pull ourselves back from the brink of something awful.
Pope John Paul II once said,
Pervading nationalism imposes its dominion on man today in many different forms and with an aggressiveness that spares no one. The challenge that is already with us is the temptation to accept as true freedom what in reality is only a new form of slavery.
I really cannot say it any better than that.