Charlottesville: From Patriotism to Nationalism to Malignant Nationalism

what is patriotism, patriotism definitio

Too many Americans can’t distinguish between patriotism and nationalism, let alone malignant nationalism. Recognizing the difference is extremely important to any democracy that doesn’t want to devolve into fascism

what is patriotism, patriotism definitio(09-05-2017, updated 07-12-2018)  Optimists still think that the white supremacists in Charlottesville were outliers, or that this is when everything changes. I’m not that optimistic. To many outsiders, America already lives with “a very quiet kind of fascism“. I’ve always felt that America is primed for a fascist takeover. I’m sure most readers will still think, even after Charlottesville, that I’m overreacting, But I don’t think I am.

What is Blood and Soil?

When I Googled “Blood and Soil” to find a site that explains the term for yesterday’s post, the first thing I found was a blog post by someone who thought that it just meant the white supremacists wanted blood to flow on the ground, but then he looked up ‘blood and soil definition’ and found out what it really means. I’m glad he looked it up and then shared his new-found knowledge. (If only someone would make the white guys yelling “Blood and Soil” here realize how ignorant it makes them look. Oh wait, Native Americans have been at that for centuries.)

Anyway, my point is that kids should be learning about this in school. The term Blut und Boden sprouted up during the Romanticism movement in Germany in the nineteenth century. It idealized German heritage and Germans’ connections to the land. In the 1920s Hitler and the Nazi Party appropriated it and generalized it to an idealization of (Aryan) Germans and Germany as a country. And of course they told everyone that German was the best nationality and Germany was the best country on Earth, and Aryans were the master race.

In the Netherlands we learned about this in high school History, as a part of what led up to World War Two. Whenever we hear someone say that their country is the best without it clearly being meant in jest, our heckles go up. That’s nationalism, and if you believe your country is the best, by extension you also believe that all other countries are inferior. That’s malignant nationalism. And who in America hasn’t been taught that America is the best country on Earth? That you should be proud of the simple coincidence that you were born here? Or that you should be proud that you acquired the holy grail–citizenship–later in life? That’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism.

Indoctrination at School

Saying the Pledge of Allegiance in Kindergarten–if not earlier–without any understanding of the meaning of the words, of what you’re actually promising, and without any choice in the matter, that’s nationalism. When teachers and principals drill it into children from such an early age that this country has liberty and justice for all, and that God looks down on them especially, that’s nationalism. Learning at such an early age that the American flag is so important that you stand and say big, solemn-sounding words to it every morning, that’s nationalism.

That’s nationwide imprinting, priming citizens from an early age to respond positively and unquestioningly to nationalistic symbols and one-liners, to respond positively to anything anybody says with conviction as long as the flag is draped in the background, to go all rah-rah at hearing any sentence or slogan that has the words “America” and “great” in it. It’s conditioning a citizenry to respond a certain way to empty symbols, empty slogans, empty words. That’s not patriotism, that’s indoctrination and malignant nationalism.

Critical Thinking Skills

The words of the Pledge of Allegiance have no more meaning to an adult than to a kindergartner if that kid grows up without being taught U.S. history. That child grows up without understanding the principles on which America is founded, without wondering what liberty and justice actually mean. It never occurs to him to wonder if there is actually liberty and justice for all in this country, or whether it is rather something to strive for, and if so, how? And how has that striving worked out so far? And who and what has been sacrificed for this liberty and justice, as far as it exists right now?

Without history education, without teaching analytical thinking skills, without taking on the “controversial subjects“, it’s all just words, just a load of bullshit. Trump supporters and Trump apologists in Congress are proving every day that it’s all just bullshit.

“We Won, So Now We Don’t Care”

That’s one of those Trump quotes that barely got any attention the day after the election. Those Tea Party folks who were always going on about the Constitution during the Obama presidency? They are fighting for more Christian influence in all domains of public life. Trump says the mainstream media are evil and then punishes them by banning them from press conferences? The Tea Party folks don’t bat an eye.  The Attorney General demands that Dreamhost hand over personal information of 1.3 million visitors to the site, because it helped organize protests during Trump’s inauguration? Liberty Schmiberty. All that talk about the U.S. Constitution and the Founding Fathers? The Founding who?

Trump doesn’t get rid of his companies? Suddenly the emoluments clause isn’t that important. Trump wants a ban on refugees from Muslim countries? Again with the First Amendment, what a drag! Trump wants to stop immigration completely and all of a sudden having the Statue of Liberty in the background of a photo is considered an insult. (I swear, I really can’t keep up!) When we don’t accompany the big words and slogans and symbols with any education, discussion or debate, it’s too easy for a demagogue to rile up a crowd, and then just as easily toss them aside when they’re inconvenient. That’s not patriotism, that’s nationalism.

Against Freedom to Criticize?

Malignant nationalism. When you get angry at anyone who dares to criticize any aspect of America’s political system, education system, or healthcare system; when you get angry at anyone who dares suggest that not all of your country’s history is that glorious and worthy of celebrating with statues in the public sphere, when you work yourself up into a witless, violent frenzy at those (such as Black Lives Matter) who dare criticize anything you happen to like, and if you per definition hate everyone who abhors fascism, white supremacy and thugs in general–then you’re not a patriot, you’re a malignant nationalist. Also known as a Nazi or a fascist.

Those empty slogans, empty words and empty symbols are the reason Trump was elected, it was the reason the Boy Scouts “degraded themselves“, and it’s the reason for all the Neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, protesting the removal of a statue honoring a Southern Civil War person,  in this country. It’s too easy to rile up an American crowd and too easy to bamboozle American masses. Just use the nationally imprinted trigger words and you’re golden.

So when this nightmare is over, whenever that is, and Reconstruction 2 begins, You all should revisit America’s definition of patriotism. Americans, are you serious about your democracy? Do you truly want to strive for liberty and justice for all? Then you must educate your kids. (Or get outsiders to set re-education up from scratch. I’m serious–if you could do it yourselves, you’d have done it by now.)

And by educate I mean give them critical thinking skills.

Change American Public Education

Have debates in the classroom about the freedom of religion in the First Amendment. There will be many viewpoints. Make them think them all through to their conclusions. What would happen if…? Until they really understand the meaning of the First Amendment and the foresight of the framers. That’s patriotism.

History Education

Teach your kids about history and politics. No, not the dates of all the major Civil War battles and where they took place and who won and how many died on each side. Teach them what motivated different groups of people, in America, but also in Africa and Europe–how everything and everyone is always connected. Make them aware that people have interests and agendas, and teach them to read between the lines. That’s patriotism.

Teach the mistakes of the past. Not the strategic mistakes on the battlefield, but mistakes that we humans made against ourselves. Teach them about slavery, make them imagine what that was like, teach them about the long road from slavery to civil rights and make your white kids understand where African Americans are coming from today with Black Lives Matter. And yes, maybe that’s awkward for some of you. Suck it up.

And for God’s sake, teach WWII! Sure, teach about D-Day and the war part of the war, but most importantly, teach how it was possible for people to get to the point that they viewed others as less than human. Teach them that average citizens in one of the most “civilized” countries in the world ended up murdering six million Jews, 250,000 disabled people, around 200,000 Roma, almost 2,000 Jehovah’s witnesses, and thousands of homosexuals, communists and “other deviants”, after labeling them Untermenschen.

Never Become Complacent

And then teach them about Trump, and about the Neo-Nazi’s and the KKK and the White Supremacists and the Alt-Right, and about Charlottesville. Teach them that Americans, being just as human as Germans, can sink to the same lows. Teach them that Americans can and do hate other people as much as the Germans did. Teach them to recognize the sowers of such hate and teach them that they can never become complacent. That’s patriotism.

Teach them to always question everything, and especially anything anybody tells them that includes “this great nation” and ends with “trust me”. Teach them how to distinguish between fact and fiction. Teach them to beware of demagogues who use nationalistic symbols, easy slogans — imprinted trigger words to make you feel good about yourselves in the moment, so you don’t pay attention to what’s actually happening. Teach them about mass psychology and crowd psychology, so they can stay in control of their own minds in a crowd.

You know now what happens when you don’t pay attention, when you think, “Oh, surely not,” or, “That would never happen here”. You know now what happens when you give undeserving people the benefit of the doubt. Teach your kids that it’s okay to love their country, but that Americans are not perfect, that they are no different than people anywhere. Teach them that they should always keep working to make the country better for everyone. Teach them that they can look to other countries to learn from them. And again, and above all, teach them to never become complacent.

(This post was first published on the blog Resident Alien: Being Dutch in America, under the title: “From Nationalism to Patriotism, Again”, 09-05-2017)


  • Hansen, Suzy. “Unlearning the myth of American innocence”. (The long read) The Guardian, August 8, 2017.
    When she was 30, Suzy Hansen
  • Cox, Katie. “DOJ Demands Company Turn Over Info On 1.3 Million Visitors To Anti-Trump Website”. (The Consumerist) Consumer Reports, August 15, 2017.
  • Heim, Joe. “Recounting a day of rage, hate, violence and death”. (Local) The Washington Post, August 14, 2017.
  • Teachout, Zephyr and Seth Barrett Tillman. “The Foreign Emoluments Clause: Article I, Section 9, Clause 8:  Common Interpretation”. (Article 1: Legislative Branch) The U.S. Constitution. Washington, D.C. National COnstitution Center,

Header image: mine (picture of screen)

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