NATIONALISM: loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness, exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational organizations.
Patriotism is a love for one’s country. Nationalism is a love for one’s country, but also the conviction that one’s country is the best, and that that sentiment cannot be questioned.
As I said in the introduction to this series about Fascism in America, nationalism and fascism go hand in hand. It’s a small step from nationalism to fascism and in many ways they overlap. America has always been strongly nationalistic.
Nationalism includes the belief that one’s country is the best, and that one’s people are the best. There’s even a term specifically for American nationalism, which Stalin mockingly coined and which Reagan turned into a compliment: American exceptionalism. There are many definitions of American exceptionalism, but they all have several aspects in common:
- the belief that America is unique in the world due to its history as the first democratic country;
- the belief that America is somehow immune to the dangers of fascism;
- the conviction that America is the best and an example to the world as regards democracy, freedom, upward social mobility, etc.
In order to fight fascism, America’s pervasive nationalism and the idea of American exceptionalism has to be addressed. Americans, you are not special. Yes, you have the oldest democracy in the world, but many countries have long since overtaken you in terms of democratic values and individual freedom and yes, even in upward social mobility.
Many countries have some form of proportional representation in their government, which means that a party that gets 20% of the votes gets 20% of the seats in parliament. So everyone is heard. Which is more democratic than the American winner-take-all system, wouldn’t you agree? Also, in most democracies, some variation of America’s Supreme Court evaluates a bill and decides whether or not it’s constitutional before it goes into law, which saves a lot of frustration, money, heartache, injustice and lives.
Most western democracies don’t suffer from the level of police oppression that’s the norm in America. Just watch an episode or two of Happy Valley if you don’t believe me. In most western countries, you don’t get put in handcuffs for talking back to a cop, because freedom of speech trumps verbal respect for someone just because they wear a uniform. More on this in a later post. At the same time freedom of speech is qualified in many countries to except speech that incites or promotes hatred and violence toward others, because people have the constitutional right to a reasonably safe existence, without public intimidation.
And the go-to argument that is often used when all others fail: but America is still the only country where you can start off as a newspaper boy and become a millionaire? Not true. In Canada and many European countries you stand a much better chance of making more than your parents did than in America.
The idea that Americans are somehow special, somehow immune to undemocratic movements, is dangerously naive. I think we all know that now. So America is the oldest democracy, but that doesn’t mean you can put everything on automatic pilot. I have been telling people that I think it’s dangerous to do things like make kindergartners pledge allegiance to a flag, because that kind of nationalist indoctrination can so easily lead to fascism. The response has always been a breezy “Oh, that would never happen here. We’re just proud of our country–nothing wrong with that.”
But America is just a country, nothing less, but also nothing more. And Americans are just people, no better or worse than people anywhere. Americans are capable of the same hatred and violence as the Germans were. Don’t take my word for it–check out the Stanford Prison Experiment and the movie The Wave, based on a high school history experiment.
Since Trump became the Republican nominee and especially after the election, the haters have become emboldened and we see the results every day. In Charlottesville, but also in public figures who say that those who don’t want to stand for the national anthem can line up and get shot. When a public figure spews fascist talk like that, it’s only one small step away from inciting government-sanctioned violence, and some folks won’t even care about that distinction; it’s just a matter of time before someone carries out that threat.
Already several schools are now telling students that they will be expelled if they refuse to stand for the national anthem. That’s unconstitutional, but Trump said it, so they’re doing whatever they want. And he’s only been president for eight months…
Things are going downhill so fast it’s making reasonable people’s heads spin, and I think we all know now that America is just as vulnerable as any country that isn’t vigilant at all times against non-democratic tendencies.
The next post will be about nationalist and fascist language.