In an election cycle that has been tumultuous at best, one of the few constants has been a dominant tone of nationalism and identity politics.
The Trump campaign slogan, “Make America Great Again,” has become a call-to-arms to restore a severely weakened United States. Trump prides his slogan on trying to undercut the U.S. issues surrounding political correctness, an out-of -touch Washington elite and, quite bluntly, people of color.
All of these frustrations are thought to be rooted to passionate allegiance in the greatest country in the world.
However, over the last 60 years, the lines between such “patriotism” and outright nationalism have dangerously blurred to the extent that many Americans cannot tell the difference.
During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR) launched massive propaganda campaigns not just to prove their superiority to the world, but to also instill a feeling of pride in their own citizens.
Within the United States, loyalty to the country was supporting the fight against communism in a righteous and dutiful way.
Even as trust in the government waned during the Vietnam War and Watergate scandal, patriotism continued to grow, culminating in a U.S. “victory” with the dissolution of the USSR.
But, the nationalistic side of these attitudes has become the standard for showing true support of one’s country.
This has manifested in a resurgence of racism, nativism and idolization of the “traditional” American persona: being straight, white, Christian males of European heritage.
Increasingly, this strain of extremism has become one of the biggest detriments to critical reflection and constructive conversation, both within our political and social apparatuses.
Systematic discrimination in our political, economic and judicial system is acceptable, but heaven forbid that someone not stand for the national anthem.
Sending troops to fight seemingly endless wars is approved, but burning a flag in protest is considered taboo.
An epidemic of gun violence is a problem, but possession of a semi-automatic assault rifle with a 30-round magazine is justified by a 240-year-old document written when it took an average of 20 seconds to load and fire a musket.
Essayist and drama critic Sydney J. Harris once wrote in his weekly column, Strictly Personal, “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does.”
You can honor the armed services, but disagree with going to war. You can support law enforcement and also believe that changes need to be made in how we treat minority communities.
You can have pride in your country and still learn from the cultural, social and technological advancements of other nations.
The United States is a great nation. But, to quote Harris’s novel, Pieces of Eight, “greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is.”