For years, patriotism has been placed on a pedestal, a divine duty that all citizens must strive for daily. To be patriotic was to be moral, was to be faithful: to not be patriotic was the ultimate betrayal of your nation. It was practically an act of terrorism, for decades, to not be willing to sacrifice everything for your country.
The traces of this intoxicating mindset is unclear, whether we credit Napoleon Bonaparte, von Bismark or others for the establishment of patriotism. Regardless, it can be argued that nowhere in the world has its doctrine penetrated thousands as it surely has in the United States of America. The American Revolution in 1775 and its subsequent victory was and remains a source of incredible pride for the nation. Viewing themselves as the fathers of freedom, the establishment of democracy, the land of the brave, the United States as a nation tends to veer towards the side of full, devout patriotism. The utmost pride and adoration of one’s country is instilled at a very early age, mainly at school: every child recites the Pledge of Allegiance every single morning. American history is idealized, if not white-washed in Music, right after ‘Mary Had a Little Lamb’, children are taught to sing the national anthem. Patriotism establishes itself in the heart of every citizen and grows with the person.
In no way does this declaration slander the United States; in fact, many will argue these methods have instilled a degree of devotion that has proved reliable in difficult times. Despite all troubles, people still honour their attachment to their country. This being said, a frame of mind such as this is the very fuel that promoted former president Donald Trump’s widely supported campaign. The hats, bearing the bold ‘Make America Great Again’ inspired a hope, a longing for a past when America was revered by all, not mocked or criticised. A land where the American Dream exists in full-fledged, fruitful glory. A land which never existed before and never will. A land that is nonetheless desired.
In examining the policies and messages via twitter of Donald Trump, the stain of patriotism is evident. And, when researching, I stumbled across George Orwell’s ‘Notes on Nationalism’. Very often confused are these two concepts; however, you never hear someone declaring themselves a nationalist. Nationalism is commonly, but not exclusively, associated with extremism and even terrorism! Patriotism is still widely regarded as a noble and humble trait to adopt. The line between these two is not overtly clear, but the general idea is as follows: “By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.” In this definition, patriotism appears harmless, a trait perhaps shared by all in some way, shape or form. It isn’t.
Orwell defines it as believing ‘to be the best in the world’, and while not following in Nazi Germany’s footsteps of ‘Lebensraum’ (presumably they were nationalists), the attitude is that of being above others. Being patriotic not only blinds you to the faults and flaws of your very own government (trickle-down economics, anyone?), but it promotes a mentality of superiority. As such, we stumble upon a commonly seen problem, perhaps most notably in America: other countries, other cultures and people who are classified as ‘others’ are inferior. The rejection of immigration from places too far removed from one’s own walk of life, an idea that has existed for hundreds of years, is based on this very principle: if we allow these ‘others’ in, they will alter our society too much. We’ve all heard it, right? And, arguably, this intolerant attitude stems from a culture of patriotism our own societies upheld.
This scenario is not exclusive to America, nor should we pretend it is. Rather, it is experienced in probably every single country in the world. What makes America particularly fascinating is how patriotic it has been from the very birth of the nation, and their fall from grace could very well be linked. QAnon, an anti-Semitic and anti-democrat radical group, would argue that they are incredibly patriotic. In fact, their entire goal is to save America from some pedophile-trafficking-money-laundering-ring they’ve concocted. Their ‘movement’ has spread rapidly across the nation and is based on the very principle of ‘us versus them’, of the superiority of American ideals versus the inferiority of socialist, “Marxist”, liberal views. Patriotism, the ideal mentality for any good citizen, once revered and praised, has taken an extremely dangerous turn, as perhaps it always would have. It is not a noble endeavour, to become patriotic, rather a futile one, if not for the individual, then for the country and more consequently our world.