Donald Trump and the Corruption of Patriotism

I’ve always had a complicated, thorny relationship with patriotism. When we were asked to stand up and hold our hands over our hearts in high school while an instrumental version of the National Anthem was played over the loudspeaker, I would sit in my chair with my trademark sullen scowl. To put things in Colin Kaepernick terms, I invariably chose to take a knee rather than salute the flag. 

The idea of being asked to pledge allegiance every day, and stand up to salute a muzak version of a terrible song written by a proud slave owner never appealed to me. Like so much of what constitutes patriotism in our society, it seemed like mindless posturing rather than a genuine, sincere appreciation of our nation's ideals. 

Patriotism can be used to moral ends. In World War II, for example, countless men and women were moved to fight Fascism for our world’s soul through propaganda designed to whip the populace into a fine, patriotic frenzy. At best, patriotism makes us want to share our nation’s gifts of freedom and democracy with the rest of the world, to act as an example and an inspiration. 

You've really got to watch out for the eagles vomiting fireworks, especially this time of year

You've really got to watch out for the eagles vomiting fireworks, especially this time of year

The films of Frank Capra embody the best of patriotism. They speak elegantly and powerfully to our highest ideals, and to the greatness we are capable of. 

These days, however, patriotism tends to feel way too much like nationalism, and nationalism tends to feel like white nationalism. A lot of this has to do with the rise of Trump and his corruption of patriotism. During the campaign I remained on the Trump-Pence campaign email list out of morbid fascination. 

Whoever wrote those godawful emails was continuously referring to “patriotic, hard-working Americans” who supported Trump. It became apparent that for Trump and his people, “patriotic, hard-working Americans” was cynical shorthand for “White, American-born, Christian Republican voters who fear and despise non-white, non-American-born, non-Christian voters.”

The Trump/Pence email blasts saw those people as REAL Americans and everyone else as hopelessly ersatz. I was reminded of a line in the Weekly World News graphic novel I wrote about earlier for this site where Ed Anger, Weekly World News’ proudly xenophobic, immigrant and space alien-hating proto-Trump-voter, croons, as part of his theme song, “We’re not just pro-American, we’re anti-everyone else.” 

In the age of Trump, the “Anti-everyone-else” part seems to be the primary component of patriotism. Trump and his people seem to see the world not in terms of potential friends to help but rather in terms of enemies to be perpetually on guard against. He doesn't just seem to be against globalism, he seems to be against all the other countries on the globe as well, except for his beloved Mother Russia. 

In this awful, toxic formulation, our values aren’t gifts to share with the world, but rather a treasure that must be protected against a world full of dangerous, psychotic enemies, many, if not all, of them Muslim, who hate us because we are so much better than them, but also because in Trump’s world, anything that’s not one hundred percent American, or Russian, is probably evil and should be destroyed. 

Trump has replaced “us and them” with “us against them.” He’s conditioning the masses to believe that we’re inherently good and the rest of the world is inherently evil. He’s in an emotionally abusive relationship with the American people and American voters and that’s what emotionally abusive people do: they separate the people they’re abusing from their friends, they isolate them and they try to convince them that only they have their best interests in mind and that everyone else is a parasite or evil. 

So when I buy stamps these days I invariably try to get ones without American flags on them. Trump and his Deplorables have corrupted the concept of American patriotism. They’ve turned it into something ugly and mean, paranoid and short-sighted. They’ve not only tainted the hackneyed symbols of patriotism, like eagles and flags and two liters of Mountain Dew, they’ve also tainted and perverted the very ideals those symbols represent, and that is a much greater crime. 

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