The Individual Difference
Individualism is an aspect of American culture that sets America apart from the rest of the world. The ability to have individualized thoughts and ideas from each citizen of this country allows there to be growth, but it also can leave people divided. Our country is more divided than ever after the 2016 presidential election and many blame this on the extreme views, republican or democratic, that were brought to the surface during the entire campaign and election process. These extreme views were always there, resonating within the minds of the American people, but because of the politically charged nature of the election these radical views were bolded, underlined and out in the public for all to see. With this political electricity now exposed to excite the minds of the American people, it magnified the idea that nationalism is some dirty, terrible trait to believe in as an American but to be a labeled as a patriot and to boast patriotism is invited and widely appreciated by the nation as a whole. However, if one is to look up the definition of nationalism in a dictionary, patriotism will come up as a synonym for the tainted word. Minxin Pei writes that “nationalism is a dirty world in the United States, viewed with disdain...yet those who discount the idea of American nationalism may readily admit that Americans...are extremely patriotic” (Pei, 2003). Pei is trying to say that when an individual is asked to explain the difference between nationalism and patriotism there is an awkwardness that sprouts from the question because when faced with it, there is no real difference in definitions.
One word is a synonym to the other. This idea that such a maleficent word such as nationalism could have a synonym as pure as patriotism would make no sense since one word is respected much more than the other, but that is exactly the case. In this essay I will argue that the only real difference between nationalism and patriotism is the individual who defines it. White nationalism was brought to light during the election and current presidency. The current president, Donald Trump, was supported by white nationalists throughout the entirety of the campaign, during his election process, and is currently still supported by this extremist group of individuals. However, this form of nationalism is viewed more negatively now than ever before because of how the presidential campaign went and what the mainstream media constantly gave coverage too. Donald J. Trump made headlines around the world for rancorous and inflammatory remarks toward women, immigrants, religious groups and minorities (Eddy S Ng, Christina L Stamper, 2017). Stamper states that Trump grossly misused nationalism in his campaign when he turned his strategy for winning into an “us vs. them” debate (Stamper, 2017). Dividing the country even further, while pitting citizens against one another based on their differences. Whenever the face of our country is backed by white nationalists while he also makes crude remarks about entire populations of people, it is understandable why citizens would misconstrue the term nationalism. In contrast to the negativity surrounding nationalism, Wilbur Zelinsky did a 6 year research project on the history of nationalism and many times referred to the word patriotism within his writings. In doing so, it proves the point further that nationalism and patriotism can go hand in hand depending on the individual that is defining it. When quoting famous author George Orwell, Zelinsky said “one cannot see the modern world as it is unless one recognizes the overwhelming strength of patriotism, national loyalty” (Zelinsky, 1988). In this case, nationalism is looked at as an equal to patriotism rather than an opponent of it. Nationalism is defined as patriotic feelings, emotions or efforts. Zelinsky sees this as benefittical and in no way would he consider the term to be derogatory. Many figures can also be associated with the two terms including the flag, the American bald eagle, Uncle Sam and Rosie the Riveter.
All of these images have such a strong sense of pride and honor behind them, but yet are seen in a different light depending on if they are paired with either the word nationalism or patriotism, in a good or bad way. That perception and the attitude that goes along with it is all individually based. On the other hand, patriotism is all across the board very much accepted in this country. Citizens relate patriotism immediately with a sense of love and honor. Those that consider themselves to be patriots and title themselves as such are welcomed with open arms by the American population. Because of this open appreciation, if an American patriot were to be disrespected it would make headlines immediately.
For example, when Trump expressed rude and inconsiderate remarks about prisoners of war but more specifically American patriot and Arizona senator, John McCain. Mark Moore detailed Trump’s statement of “[liking] people who weren’t captured” in an article (Moore, 2017). Although prisoners of war fight in the war and are captured, that does not mean they are not war heroes and that they do not deserve to be respected just as other military personnel deserve. However, rather than thinking twice about degrading POW’s, Trump quite simply bashed an entire group of people that are all labeled as patriots while simultaneously proving why Americans view patriotism and nationalism so differently. When Trump demeaned McCain with his statement, he also fueled the positive reflection of patriotism that American citizens already have. By showing disrespect for an American patriot, he furthermore increased the love and support that people will continue to have for those who consider themselves to be patriots.
The two terms, nationalism and patriotism, are constantly overlapping whether the individual feels similarly toward both or favors one above the other. Having an extreme love, appreciation, and dedication toward one’s country can be a definition of the two words. Gerald R. Webster uses Michael Billig’s concept of “banal nationalism” which is the idea that the attitude toward nationalism expressed by the population as a majority depends solely upon the period in which it is being defined (Webster, 2011). If one could flash forward 50 years this dirty definition of nationalism that the majority of the country carries could be completely washed cleaned. In contrast to that, if one researches nationalism in the United States before the terrorist attacks on the twin towers on September 11th, 2001 one can very easily see that the invasion of Iraq spun the attitude toward the word nationalism.
Due to the fact that the invasion was wrongful since there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq hundreds of thousands of innocent people, both American and foreign, were sent away from there families, injured, or killed during the war (Webster, 2011). With the war in mind nationalism is not the only source of animosity. To truly be a patriot and ro reinforce patriotism, that means that individual is dedicated in the support of all actions taken place by the United States, including the invasion of Iraq. In both cases, whether one embraces nationalism or patriotism, the individual has to take a step back from their own beliefs and realize that their homeland made a mistake.