Definition of Patriotism
A dictionary will generally define patriotism as devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country. But if one digs deeper, there are numerous essays on the subject that bring the definition to life with more expansive explanations of the word. A common theme is that love of country goes well beyond the physical attributes one might summarize as its beautiful scenery.
Alonzo T. Jones on Patriotism
In an 1898 address entitled What is Patriotism in the United States, Alonzo T. Jones, a Seventh-day Adventist church historian and theologian, said it best. “Thus, love of country is really love of the institutions and the principles which make a country what it is in all respects; it is loyalty to those specific principles and institutions.”
He then goes on to say, “There can be no question but that the Declaration of Independence was the beginning of this nation. And the first principle embodied in that immortal declaration is that ‘all men are created equal, and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.’ “
The wisdom expressed in the above abstractions is as relevant today as when they were written. Given the deep political divide that now exists in the United States, it is important to understand what patriotism really means and to evaluate those in the political class who profess to be patriots. Jones adds these additional comments to help make that distinction.
“ … knowing that patriotism is the spirit which prompts obedience to the laws of one’s country, and the support and defense of its principles and institutions, it will be easy for all to discern what is, and what is not, patriotism here. Firm allegiance, strict adherence, to these fundamental principles is in the nature of the case patriotism. Any forgetting, any ignoring, or any disregarding of these principles, however much those who do so may proclaim their patriotism, is in truth, the very opposite…”
Principles Characteristic of the U.S.
With the passage of the thirteenth amendment and abolition of slavery, the country began a long process that truly characterized who we are as nation. That amendment reinforced the basic principle articulated in the Declaration of Independence that all men are created equal and are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. The principle was expressed as the country became a nation of immigrants, built by proudly offering a welcoming hand to those seeking freedom and the opportunity to maximize their own potential. Later, policies and laws were implemented to curtail discrimination and provide avenues to achieve equality and justice for all. That is no longer the case, as this President, perhaps the most racist in American history, promotes inequality and injustice for all, and makes no attempt to hide his disdain for people of color.
Patriotism and Defense of Country
Another important element of patriotism is defense of country and, in this, the President has been and is a colossal failure. Beyond policies inimical to the country’s standing in the world—trade, climate change, relationship with allies—which some might contend are matters of opinion, there is one subject that cannot be so classified. His failure to address Russia’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election, dissemination of information specifically designed to damage western democracies and continuing efforts to do so, which represent a clear and present danger to the United States, destroys any claim that he is a patriot. And his refusal to enforce sanctions against Russia written into law by a bipartisan Congress furthers that belief and raises the unanswered question: why he is acting contrary to U.S. interests?
Donald Trump the Unpatriot
By the standard of patriotism that requires loyalty to the principles that characterize the nation—to which he demonstrates contrary beliefs—and defense of the country—for which he refuses to act against Russia for its attacks on United States’ institutions—President Trump is certainly not a patriot. And if he is not, must we then use the antonym of patriot to describe him?
Without going to that extreme, there is another way to look at this President based on his Make America Great Again Campaign and actions taken since becoming President.
George Orwell and Nationalism
In May 1945, as the Second World War drew to a close in Europe, George Orwell, an author best known for his subsequent novels, Animal Farm and 1984, wrote an essay, Notes on Nationalism, in which he drew a distinction between patriotism and nationalism. While the subject matter was inherently a critique of the nationalism exhibited in the period preceding and during the war, his comments ring true today. Here are some relevant comments:
“Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power …”
“A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist — that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating — but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations …”
“The nationalist … is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also … unshakeably certain of being in the right…”
“Obsession … The smallest slur upon his own unit, or any implied praise of a rival organization, fills him with uneasiness which he can relieve only by making some sharp retort…”
“Indifference to Reality. All nationalists have the power of not seeing resemblances between similar sets of facts. … Actions are held to be good or bad, not on their own merits, but according to who does them, and there is almost no kind of outrage — torture, … mass deportations, imprisonment without trial, … which does not change its moral colour when it is committed by ‘our’ side …”
“Indifference to Reality by the sealing-off of one part of the world from another, which makes it harder and harder to discover what is actually happening…”
Donald Trump, the Nationalist
Clearly, one can readily see Donald Trump exemplifying the characteristics described above: desire for power; uses his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating; capable of the most flagrant dishonesty; relieves the smallest slur by some sharp retort; no kind of outrage when it is committed by his side; sealing-off of one part of the world from another (Fox News).
So, while in no way ignoring descriptions of Donald Trump as an idiot, moron, or jerk, he is also a nationalist. Orwell first describes nationalism as, “… the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests.” He does not posit that all nationalism per se is bad, but having just endured a great war brought on by Fascist Nationalists—Hitler and Mussolini—he does outline the dangers of nationalist movements. And that brings us to Donald Trump the nationalist, which in many respects, makes him more dangerous than just not being a patriot.
The man enters the presidency with little if any knowledge of issues or what the position requires, has no knowledge of the Constitution—which he has pledged to defend—and authoritarian tendencies that allow him to believe he has the power to do what he virtually pleases. And that is where the danger lies. With little knowledge of, or shaded ideas of what is best for the country, the risk for damage by his actions or lack thereof is great—not the least of which is nuclear war—particularly if his authoritarian tendencies take over.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon all citizens who do not follow in lock step with Trump’s outrageous behavior to support a free press and speak out when necessary, particularly by putting pressure on those in his party to curb his egregious actions and act with patriotism, not complicity.