Untangling the -ism’s: Patriotism vs Nationalism

This past week has seen yet more disturbing actions by the Trump regime, but the lowlights are the exclusion of major, highly respected media organizations such as the BBC from press events and the statement by the chief strategist that the regime is aiming to follow a policy of “economic nationalism.”

Beginning with the media, from the 40,000 foot perspective it is humorous to see a President and his staff who, having on multiple occasions openly lied and stated false and misleading information as fact and basis for action, accuse the media of delivering “fake news.” At a closer level, however, it is setting a very dangerous precedent when the White House picks and chooses which media outlets they allow to have direct access. This is particularly alarming when it is the top tier, internationally respected organizations with a history of unbiased reporting and reputation for journalistic integrity which are excluded from access while highly questionable outlets with stated political agendas aligning with that of the regime are allowed in. In a regime where actions and statements are often based on the perception of an individual, often in opposition to all relevant facts, it should be remembered that it works both ways, and the perception of excluding some of the most respected media outlets certainly carries an implication that the regime has something to hide and / or is unwilling to allow criticism.
Relative to nationalism, economic or otherwise, I think it is worth taking a step back and understand the difference between nationalism and patriotism. For many people they seem to be synonymous, but there is a very important disconnect between them. Although dictionary definitions may or may not always reflect the exact usage of an individual, as the recognized guidelines for the language they provide a useful starting point. Per Webster’s:

Definition of nationalism
1 : loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially : a sense of national consciousness (see consciousness 1c) 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 groups
2 : a nationalist movement or government

Definition of patriotism
: love for or devotion to one’s country

Taking the first definition of nationalism, there initially appears to be an overlap. Looking a touch closer, though, identifies a few key differences. Loyalty vs. Love, Nation vs. Country. Loyalty carries an implication of obedience and subservience which is not present in love. Likewise nation and country are not directly interchangeable as a country is in large part based on geography while a nation is based on population characteristics – and it is fully possible for a nation to spread across multiple countries, or a country to encompass multiple nations.

The true issue, however, is definition 1c – “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 groups.” This is the nationalism which leads to wars. It’s this nationalism which leads to terrorism. It’s this nationalism which leads to economic collapse. The irony here is that when country and nation are bantered about interchangeably the distinctions get lost, and many of those who are patriotic get swept away in nationalism only to recognize the difference too late.

As an example of this distinction, The American country went to war with Japan, but the American nation decided that American citizens of Japanese ancestry were potentially more members of the Japanese nation than the American nation and accordingly sent them off to concentration camps such as Manzanar despite their contributions to the American country.

In reality, the Trump regime is focused on protecting the Trump nation. The difference between this regime and past presidents is that in the past, although there may have been agenda differences, presidents from both parties generally worked with what their predecessors gave them and followed established norms to put their stamp on things moving forward. This provided a framework where, over the course of several administrations, policies and procedures were refined and the inherent value was retained while the questionable sidelines were stripped away and overall progress was made in a positive direction. Rathar than following this model, Trump has opted to avoid associating with those who understand how the system works and are capable of bridging the party gaps, instead bringing in polarizing figures intent on an “us or them” policy.

Am I patriotic? Yes, as in almost any given situation I will bias toward, or take a stronger interest in, the country of my citizenship relative to another. Am I nationalistic? No. As a US citizen who has seen beyond the narrow borders of Trump’s nation, I can honestly say that there is nothing unique or superior about Americans. We are people like everyone else in the world. The fact that we have a US passport does not make any citizen of this country more or less of a person than if that passport was from anywhere else. Depending on the context there are situations where one passport has advantages and disadvantages relative to another. At an individual level, I have more to fear from a US citizen with a gun than I do from any of the people or groups whom Trump has tried to ban from the country.

Definition Source: https://www.merriam-webster.com/

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