As the midterm elections draw closer, there’s something that needs to be revisited – recent events demand it.
We have former president Obama, along with other prominent figures and organizations, receiving pipe bombs in the mail. Meanwhile, the rhetoric of past weeks has ramped up as tensions mount.
We have had the word “nationalist” come up in an unsettling way, spoken without diligence and knowledge to the history of the term, nor the implications that come with it.
During a rally in Houston, Texas, President Donald Trump defiantly declared himself a nationalist.
I wonder if many know or simply forgot in the rush of tribal fervor that the term Nazi has
its roots in the official name of that party – The Nationalist Socialist German Worker’s Party.
There is really no way to remove the connection between these words, Nazi and nationalist – not now. They are intertwined at their cores, despite their differing methods and ideologies.
Yet, I fear the term nationalist has just become a synonym in people’s minds – one for patriots who love their country above all – when nothing could be further from the truth.
This is best shown with the words of Sydney J. Harris, a Chicago journalist from the 1930s who lived during the times when nationalism swept across Europe like some fetid disease.
He wrote, “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; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility, but the second a feeling of
blind arrogance that leads to war.”
Love for one’s country is not blind loyalty. It is not marching in step without accepting the blame when mistakes are made.
No – a love for one’s country means you want it to be better for everyone and you will work toward that end. So, when someone calls themself a nationalist on a platform, saying they don’t know the history of it but are saying it proudly regardless, to a crowd of cheering supplicants, it is the epitome of irresponsibility.
If someone says it’s OK because they love their country and – “why split hairs over different words for it?” – that is the pinnacle of ignorance to reality, to history, and to how things have changed over the last century.
I sincerely implore everyone to not only vote and prevent a further erasure of the pillars that our democracy was built upon, but I also ask you remember to guard against casual use of that term.
I ask you remember the associations “nationalist” has with it, and give you one last quote from someone whose fictions we are close to living a parody of: George Orwell.
“Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power.”