We've always been nationalists
Last Tuesday, President Donald Trump called himself a nationalist on stage to a cheering audience in Houston, Texas. Despite the positive reception at the rally, people around the country responded with concern. So, what exactly is nationalism in America?
Trump didn’t define what he means by nationalism, saying "You know, they have a word – it’s 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, okay? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist. Nothing wrong. Use that word. Use that word."
The truth is that America has been a nationalist country for a long, long time. Our country has a habit of making itself the world police. We destabilize governments that go too far left through coups; we place embargos on socialist countries; we blindly support an apartheid state in the middle east that is actively committing genocide on Palestinian people while breaking international law to do it. And most of us don’t care. Most Americans are willing to turn a blind eye to American imperialism and war crimes because “America doesn’t do that. America is the good guy.” But we’re not.
Failing to acknowledge our faults and the atrocities our own country has committed is textbook nationalism. Nationalism consists of rewriting your own country's history to erase the blemishes, like the genocide of Native Americans. It consists of creating a culture that attacks anyone who speaks out against any aspects of the country, like the backlash Kaepernick has faced since addressing the issue of police violence against African-Americans. It consists of creating us vs. them dichotomies, where immigrants are invaders, allies are competition and everyone else is an enemy waiting to happen. It consists of worshipping the power structures and the enforcers of the country’s laws, like the Blue Lives Matter movement and the blind support of our troops.
This is not just a Republican thing either. Even far left U.S. politicians like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez are hesitant to speak out against certain issues because of the backlash of “patriots” that don’t want to think about what we do wrong. Just look at her response on the issue of Israel-Palestine. Our politicians are either nationalistic, or fear that they stand no chance of winning an election if they don’t play along with our nationalist culture.
Democrats play it safe when it comes to self-criticizing. They’re happy to say “we can do better,” but when Senator McCain died, who literally committed a war crime by bombing a civilian establishment, they talked about him as a hero and a saint. No one wants to talk about the fact that his time in Vietnam was spent breaking international law or his regressive politics. We’d rather talk about the fact that one time he told a white woman to stop calling Obama a Muslim.
This is because we are a nationalist country. We have freedom of speech to speak out against our government, but the populace is conditioned not to use it out of fear. We fear the backlash. We fear the idea that if we don’t fall in line and worship America like the rest of the country, we’ll be outcasted, ignored, and unemployable. For a politician to openly criticize America would be career suicide, yet how can we improve our nation if we can’t talk about what we’ve done wrong?
America refuses to self-criticize, and the citizens who do speak out are shamed into silence by the right wing of our populous and are barely supported by the majority of our left wing. We take pride in things that should embarrass us and bury war criminals with honor. We put Oliver North, who committed high treason in order to destabilize a socialist country in Latin America, on our major broadcast news channels, not as a criminal, but as a correspondent.
This is the country we live in. War crimes and genocide are excusable if our leaders, our ancestors or our allies commit them and anyone who says otherwise isn’t patriotic enough to be accepted by the majority of our population. The only thing shocking about Trump’s declaration that he is a nationalist is that he’s the first president that’s willing to admit it.