I’ve always felt that America was primed for a fascist takeover. In fact, to some outsiders America already lives with “a very quiet kind of fascism“. I’m sure most readers will still think, even after Charlottesville, that I’m overreacting, that it was only Charlottesville, not all of the USA, and yes, if it stops here, if Trump is dethroned, if this is the watershed moment when everything changes, great. But I don’t think so. I hope so, but I’m not optimistic.
Because there doesn’t seem to be much awareness of the distinction between patriotism and nationalism here. Or of the fact that nationalism can be malignant.
When I Googled “Blood and Soil” to find a site that explains the term for yesterday’s post, the first thing to pop up was a blog post by someone who thought that it just meant the white supremacists wanted blood to flow on the ground, but then he found out what it really means. I’m glad he looked it up and then shared his new-found knowledge. (If only someone would make the white guys yelling “Blood and Soil” here realize how ignorant it makes them look. Native Americans, be my guest.)
Anyway, my point is that kids should be learning about this in school. The term Blut und Boden sprouted up during the Romanticism movement in Germany in the nineteenth century, and it idealized German heritage and its connections to the land. With the rise of Hitler in the 1920s it became more generally an idealization of (aryan) Germans and Germany as a country. And of course German was the best nationality and Germany was the best country and aryans were the master race.
In the Netherlands, we learned about this in high school History, as a part of what led up to World War Two. Whenever we hear someone say that their country is the best without it clearly being meant in jest, our heckles go up. That’s nationalism, and if one’s country is the best, then by extension all other countries are inferior. That’s malignant nationalism. And who in America hasn’t been taught that America is the best country in the world? That you should be proud of the simple coincidence that you were born here? Or that you should be proud that you acquired the holy grail–citizenship–later in life? That’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism.
Learning the Pledge of Allegiance in Kindergarten–if not earlier–without any understanding of the meaning of the words, of what you’re actually promising, and without any choice in the matter, that’s nationalism. Having it drilled into you from such an early age that this country has liberty and justice for all, and that God looks down on you especially, that’s nationalism. Learning at such an early age that the American flag is so important that you stand and say big, solemn-sounding words to it every morning, that’s nationalism.
That is priming citizens from an early age to respond positively and unquestioningly to nationalistic symbols and one-liners, to respond positively to anything anybody says with conviction as long as the flag is draped in the background, to go all rah-rah at hearing any sentence or slogan that has the words “America” and “great” in it. It’s conditioning a citizenry to respond a certain way to empty symbols, empty slogans, empty words. That’s not patriotism, that’s indoctrination and nationalism.
The words of the Pledge of Allegiance have no more meaning to an adult than to a kindergartner if that kid grows up without being taught the history of his country, without understanding the principles on which it’s founded, without wondering what liberty and justice actually mean, without ever questioning if there is actually liberty and justice for all in this country, or whether it is rather something to strive for, and if so, how? And how has that striving worked out so far? And who and what has been sacrificed for this liberty and justice, as far as it exists right now?
Without education, without teaching analytical thinking skills, without taking on the “controversial subjects”, it’s all just words, just a load of bullshit. Trump supporters and Trump apologists in Congress are proving every day that it’s all just bullshit.
Those Tea Party folks who were always going on about the Constitution during the Obama presidency? They are fighting for more Christian influence in all domains of public life. Trump says the mainstream media are evil and then punishes them by banning them from press conferences? The Tea Party folks don’t bat an eye. The Attorney General is demanding that Dreamhost hand over personal information of 1.3 million visitors to the site, because it helped organize protests during Trump’s inauguration? Liberty Schmiberty. All that talk about the Constitution and the Founding Fathers? “We won so now we don’t care.” (Okay, that was a quote from Trump, but he says what the Tea Party folks think, so it counts.)
Trump doesn’t get rid of his companies? Suddenly the emoluments clause isn’t that important. Trump wants a ban on refugees from Muslim countries? Again with the First Amendment, what a drag! Trump wants to stop immigration completely and all of a sudden having the Statue of Liberty in the background of a photo is considered an insult. When the big words and slogans and symbols aren’t accompanied with any education, with any discussion or debate, they’re easily used to rile up a crowd and then just as easily tossed aside when they’re inconvenient. That’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism.
Getting angry at anyone who dares to criticize any aspect of your country’s political system, education system, healthcare system, getting angry at anyone who dares suggest that not all of your country’s history is that glorious and worthy of celebrating with statues in the public sphere, working yourself up into a witless, violent frenzy at those who dare criticize, such as Black Lives Matter and everyone else who abhors fascism, white supremacy and thugs in general–that’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism. Malignant nationalism. Also known as Nazism or fascism.
Those empty slogans, empty words and empty symbols are the reason Trump was elected, it was the reason the Boy Scouts “degraded themselves“, and it’s the reason there are so many white supremacists, Neo-Nazis, and Klansmen in this country. It’s too easy to rile up an American crowd and too easy to bamboozle American masses. Just use the trigger words and you’re golden.
So when this nightmare is over, whenever that is, and the reconstruction begins, America’s notion of patriotism should be revisited. Americans, are you serious about your democracy? Do you truly want to strive for liberty and justice for all? Then you have to educate your kids. (Or get outsiders to set re-education up from scratch. I’m serious–if you could do it yourselves, you’d be doing it already.)
And by educate I mean give them critical thinking skills.
Have debates in the classroom about the freedom of religion in the First Amendment. There will be many viewpoints. Make them think them all through to their conclusions. What would happen if…? Until they really understand the meaning of the First Amendment and the foresight of the founding fathers. That’s patriotism.
Teach your kids about history and politics. No, not the dates of all the major Civil War battles and where they took place and who won and how many died on each side. Teach them what motivated different groups of people, in America, but also in Africa and Europe–how everything and everyone is always connected. Make them aware that people have interests and teach them to read between the lines. That’s patriotism.
Teach the mistakes of the past. Not the strategic mistakes on the battlefield, but mistakes that humanity made against itself. Teach them about slavery, make them imagine what that was like, teach them about the long road from slavery to civil rights and make your white kids understand where African Americans are coming from today with Black Lives Matter. And yes, that will be awkward. Suck it up.
And for God’s sake, teach World War Two! Sure, teach about D-Day and the war part of the war, but most importantly, teach how it was possible for people to get to the point that they viewed others as less than human. Teach them that one of the most “civilized” countries in the world ended up following orders that led to the deaths of six million Jews, 250,000 disabled people, around 200,000 Roma, almost 2,000 Jehovah’s witnesses, and thousands of homosexuals, communists and “other deviants”, because they were considered Untermenschen.
And then teach them about Trump, and about the Neo-Nazi’s and the KKK and the White Supremacists and the Alt-Right and about Charlottesville. Teach them that Americans, being human, can sink to the same lows, that there are Americans who can and do hate other people as much as the Germans did. Teach them to recognize the sowers of such hate and teach them that they can never become complacent. That’s patriotism.
Teach them to always question everything, and especially anything anybody tells them that ends with “Trust me”. Teach them to do their own research. Teach them to be suspicious of demagogues using nationalistic symbols and easy slogans and trigger words meant to make them feel good about themselves in the moment. Teach them about mass psychology so they can stay in control of their own minds in a crowd.
You know now what happens when you don’t pay attention, when you think, “Oh, surely not,” or, “That would never happen here”. You know now what happens when you give undeserving people the benefit of the doubt. Teach your kids that it’s okay to love their country, but that it’s not perfect, and that they should always be working on making it better for everyone, and again, to never become complacent. That’s patriotism.