It's no secret that America is one of the most visited and most loved places in the world. From Alabama to Wyoming, the United States of America has something going on in every state with something for everyone to enjoy. Some of those things are more iconic than others. Here are 26 of the most iconic American things ever:
It's reached that point in summer when flags are flying everywhere, fireworks go off every night, BBQs are a daily occurrence, parades going on all in celebration 'Merica. But a far darker idea perpetrates this celebration, one that has always existed and has been lurking. It is a force that has come out in full force within the past year. That is the idea of nationalism. An idea which has been allowed to fester for too long.
Let's first define both patriotism and nationalism, figuring out what they would look like in practice. For this we are getting some help from out good old friends at Oxford. Patriotism is "The quality of being patriotic; love or devotion to one's country". Nationalism is defined as "Advocacy or support for the national interest of other nations. Also; advocacy of or support for national independence or self determination". They both sound pretty harmless and they both sound pretty similar. In fact they use to be used interchangeably. It's only by looking at historical use of the word and how the developed in the modern world that there is a difference.
First patriotism is a general feeling, nationalism is an ideology. Overtime patriotism has mostly been used to mean love. It has boarded on some questionable uses but has always come back to a general idea of love for one's country. Nationalism took a darker turn when it started to be used for as another word for egotism. Soon it also entwined religion into the mix as people started feeling this deep seated pride for both their country and their religion. During the Indian Independence movement race was brought into the definition. Later class was also added into the definition. I don't think many would that nationalism is a good thing.
But that still does not really give a feel for what the two manifest as. Patriotism would be love so taking up a life in public service to better the community, voting, taking time on days such as the Fourth to celebrate the freedoms we have, endorsing ideas which will move the country forward in a better direction. Nationalism on the other hand would be taking up a life in public service because you want to make America American again. Enjoying your freedoms but then thinking that allows you to impose your ideas on other (ie trying to not have evolution or sex education in class rooms because Jesus). Criticizing those who practice there rights to dissent with the phrase "if you don't like it just leave". Trying to undermine someone else's displeasure with the country because your eyes the country is perfect is not love.
There are so many other small ideas which exist in our daily conversations. This concept of a "real America", if it's in the borders of the country it is all real America. A sort of obsession with the armed forces and military power. The citizens who volunteer to do that job are amazing people. But idealizing our military might and war machine is just another form of nationalism. Any variation of the phrase about how the United States is the best country or was the best country or could be again. Nationalism is already connected with egotism, I feel like the connection is clear.
If it was just the crazy white supremacist groups espousing this everyday it would not be as much of an issue. But ideas of nationalism have worked there way into our ideas of patriotism. Patriotic songs focus solely around the armed forces and military power. Putting flags everywhere, which is also kind of weird. At the same time we also idolize our flag a lot. Talking about an idealized America or trying to get back to one. Of course any phrase which talks about how the United States is the best.
But why does this actually matter? These small, harmless showing of nationalism is hardly the same branch that causes the hate and xenophobia which nationalism is linked with. But these small, harmless showings of nationalism is what breeds the rot. Most people understand this countries faults. Most people understand the military is not what defines who we are. That you cannot trample someone else's life because you believe in a certain ideal. But the more we intertwine nationalism and patriotism the more we believe these small nationalist ideas. The more people who think it's okay to bomb a Jewish community center or a Mosque in the name of America. The more people who yell "Go back to your own country" to minorities. The more people try linking outdated ideas of race, gender, and religion into politics because to them that is "real" America. The more we allow nationalism into our conversations the more hateful and afraid this country gets.
So how do we stop it? First, we need to start thinking long and hard about our relationship to the country. Is it a healthy one where we understand it's strengths and weaknesses, see how we can make it better, can work to make it better? Or is it an unhealthy one where we see it as amazing? Or worse, an idea that it use to be great and now it is broken, that the people who broke it (being government, atheist, women, gays, non Americans etc) must be taken down? Patriotism and a healthy relationship is good, it is what moves the country forward as we work to make it a better place. Nationalism, even in small doses is bad. So go have a hot dog at the pool on the Fourth, just don't eat the nationalist rhetoric as a side.
I hate fireworks. Not all of them though. I enjoy getting up as close as I can to watch the shows on the 4th of July. I think the cities and towns put on an amazing display for the people to enjoy. However, what I hate is that in my state, it's legal to buy, own, and set off your own fireworks.
Someone in my neighborhood was setting some off the other night, and I was about ready to lose it for multiple reasons. First, it woke me up. I had been out all day going to several places and doing a lot of driving. I was tired, and I wanted to sleep as I would be getting up early the next morning. So now I'm awake, freaking out a bit as I have no idea what that incredibly loud bang was, and trying to figure out what was going on. It would be silent for a few minutes, then another one would go off. My window was facing towards wherever they were coming from so I figured out what it was soon enough. It would've been fine if they would just set them all off at once and get it over with. Instead, they were few and far between, and even at one point, I thought they were over and getting ready to fall back asleep, just for it to start back up again.
I posted on Facebook about my irritation and my sister commented how she was awake, and so were her animals. So she came over to my room. Her dog and cat both freaking out and scared. I don't blame them; it was loud and close and they've never really experienced that before. We've always heard them from farther away.
Between seeing the animals stressed, and thinking about how I kept jumping a bit at the unexpected noise of fireworks being set off, it got me thinking. How many other people have a very hard time dealing with this? There are countless animals around, veterans with PTSD, children who fear loud noises, adults with mental illness or their own history of trauma, and anyone who has trouble dealing with fireworks randomly going off. At least with the annual shows, you know where it's going to be, when it starts and ends, and can plan for it. However, when random people are just setting them off around you, you can't exactly plan for that. Now you're stuck trying to console someone and not knowing when it's going to stop.
I wish people weren't allowed to use fireworks. They're dangerous on their own to begin with, and you have no idea how badly you're effecting the people around you. I understand that in the moment you're not really thinking about that, I didn't really think about it either until my animals were scared. My brother and his fiance have 7 dogs and a baby in their house. Their dogs were terrified and they were on edge hoping their son wouldn't wake up. Firework shows are fine, you can plan. You can't plan or really do much else when they're just randomly going off around you.
The 4th of July is hard enough as it is. Places get crowed, people get scared, and it's actually one of the top holidays for pets to go missing. Adding in even more stress of a surprise show going off next door, it sort of takes the fun out of it all.
I wish fireworks were still illegal to own in this state, but I doubt that's going to happen. Instead I urge those who purchase them and plan to do their own show, be a little more considerate of those around you. Maybe check in with a few neighbors before you do it. Let them know when and find out if there is anyone near by that will struggle with the noise so that they could maybe leave for a bit, or at least prepare themselves.
Lastly, be safe. This stuff is dangerous. I recently heard on the news about kids getting burns from sparklers and a house catching on fire because of fireworks. Learn about the proper way to use them and don't mess around. I've seen plenty of prank videos that could've ended very bad.
Be safe and considerate with those fireworks!