The Pel Mel

OP ED: Redefining Nationalism – – When Politics Becomes a Dirty Word

Stephen Tahbaz, Junior, Editorial Director

The presidency of Donald Trump has been one of the more turbulent chapters in our nation’s history. One consistent theme of his time in office has been his use of non-traditional rhetoric, which has caused a demonstration of both the positives and negatives of the media. Recently, the president has been chastised by the press for describing himself as a nationalist. Before condemning the term as a whole, it is important to first establish what it means. According to Merriam-Webster, nationalism is “Loyalty and devotion to one’s nation.” The dictionary goes on to cite that nationalism often implies exalting one nation over another, placing its interests as primary over all others. This allows for interesting discourse.

Throughout history, nationalism has sometimes held negative connotations. A significant cause of both World War I and World War II was a sense of nationalism. Every nation involved considered itself superior to others and developed ethnocentric tendencies, which ultimately led to war.

However, nationalism has carried a positive meaning in contemporary global history. Few would criticize the heavily-rooted nationalist movement by African nationalists to retake their homelands from former colonial empires in the ‘50s and ‘60s, or Simon Bolivar’s attempts to liberate the nations of South America.

In the United States, nationalism has been applied in both positive and negative ways. The term has been used to suggest a belief in unity over sectionalism. George Washington considered himself a nationalist, concerned with uniting each state in order to form a functional government. Abraham Lincoln spoke about nationalism extensively. During his “House Divided” speech, Lincoln was seeking union and peace over division and conflict, a nationalist approach to reforming America. However, at the height of the Cold War, nationalistic fervor led some to call into question the patriotism of those who held different social and political beliefs. The idea that anyone could have the audacity to believe that the political beliefs espoused in communism might have aspects that might be better than democracy led some to be labeled as “un-American.” Those who protested the Vietnam War were met with chants of “America — love it or leave it!” — as if one were unable to disagree with something, and still love it. The rhetoric of nationalism subtly shifted from pride in one’s nation to hate for anyone perceived as holding an untraditional belief.

This is one reason that nationalism is now often viewed as a negative term. Another is that it was a key part of the white supremacy movement. The “N” in Nazi represented “National Socialist German Workers’ Party.”  Often tied to white supremacy and fascism, the term “white nationalism” has become a staple in the press. This is not without reason. One’s definition of nationalism is created by what they consider their country, their nation. Unfortunately, there is still a group in America that believes that our country should be a white utopia. They have turned nationalism into a negative term; something that our country’s values do not support, and a term to hide their racism.

Should the term be eliminated, or added to the list of other words that are so controversial they dare never to be uttered?  I urge the good people of America to reclaim nationalism. With the history of the word and its recent connotations in mind, let’s, as a country, look to rally behind our similarities in a time that we so desperately need unity. Let us allow nationalism to mean pride in our nation, in whatever way one takes pride in the United States. It is my belief that our founding fathers intended for Americans to feel a sense of unity, regardless of their race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or any other distinguishing factor. Simply put, sharing a country should be enough to bring people together. But with this, our nation’s creators must have anticipated discourse. Since the foundation of the United States, debate and disagreement have been principles of our society. One of the things that makes us all proud to be American is the fact that we have the right to disagree, and can do so safely.

What is there to hold together different people with contradicting views? I argue a common sense of nationalism. Whatever you feel makes you an American, not on paper but in heart; use that pride as your nationalism. In a time of such widespread hatred, a common love for our country is much needed.

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OP ED: Redefining Nationalism – – When Politics Becomes a Dirty Word