Patriotism vs. Nationalism
(In his astounding and brief best seller OnTyranny, author Timothy Snyder, a Professor of History at Yale University, details the stark difference between honest Patriotism and Nationalism, the exact opposite of Patriotism. On this Veterans day, I’m offering a targeted reading of Prof. Snyder’s Chapter 19, “Be A Patriot”, while Trump is doubling down on his attacks on true American Patriots, like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, and former U.S. Ambassador William Taylor, whose lifetimes of selfless, public- service to this country, stand in stark contrast to Donald Trump’s lifetime of self-service and his boisterous and brainless declarations that he is a “Nationalist.” I urge you to carefully read these powerful words from Professor Timothy Synder and circulate them across all social media. Then, go out and purchase a copy of his small, very readable 126-page book, On Tyranny, which may be among the most important things you read during the House Impeachment Hearings and the Senate Trial of Donald Trump v. the United States of America.)
“What is patriotism? Let us begin with what patriotism is not. It is not patriotic to dodge the draft and to mock war heroes and their families. It is not patriotic to discriminate against active-duty members of the armed forces in one’s companies, or to campaign to keep disabled veterans away from one’s property. It is not patriotic to compare one’s search for sexual partners in New York with the military service in Vietnam that one has dodged. It is not patriotic to avoid paying taxes, especially when American working families do pay. It is not patriotic to ask those working , taxpaying American families to finance one’s own presidential campaign, and then to spend their contribution in one own’s companies.
It is not patriotic to admire foreign dictators. It is not patriotic to cultivate a relationship with Muammar Gaddafi; or to say that Bashar Al-Assad and Vladimir Putin are superior leaders. It is notpatriotic to call upon Russia to intervene in an American presidential election. It is not patriotic to cite Russian propaganda at rallies. It is not patriotic to share an advisor with Russian oligarchs. It is not patriotic to solicit foreign policy advice from someone who owns shares in a Russian energy company. It is not patriotic to read a foreign policy speech written by someone on the payroll of a Russian Energy company. It is not patriotic to appoint a national security advisor who has taken money from a Russian propaganda organ. It is not patriotic to appoint as Secretary of State an oilman with Russian financial interests who is the director of a Russian-American energy company and has received the “Order of Friendship” from Putin.
The point is not that Russia and America must be enemies. The point is that patriotism involves serving your own country.
The president is a nationalist, which is not at all the same as a patriot. A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us that we are the best. A nationalist although “endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge,” wrote Orwell, tends to be “uninterested in what happens in the real world.” Nationalism is relativist, since the only truth is the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. As the novelist Danilo Kis put it, “nationalism has no universal values, aesthetic or ethical.”
A patriot, by contrast, wants the nation to live up to its ideals, which means asking us to be our best selves. A patriot must be concerned with the real world, which is the only place where his country can be loved and sustained. A patriot has universal values, standards by which he judges his nation, always wishing it well — and wishing that it would do better.
Democracy failed Europe in the 1920’s, ‘30’s and ‘40’s, and it is failing not only in much of Europe, but in many parts of the world today. It is that history and experiences that reveals to us the dark range of our possible futures. A nationalist will say that “it can’t happen here,” which is the first step toward disaster. A patriot says that it could happen here, but that we will stop it.”