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.