Opinion: Nationalism is Dangerous


Ella Adams, Managing Editor

Standing up to say the Pledge of Allegiance every morning in grade school is normal to Americans. We’ve repeated it so many times, the pledge has become a force of habit and we don’t give much thought. But, if we take a moment to think about it, the pledge represents an alarming tradition of nationalism in the United States.

Nationalism is dangerous. There is nothing wrong with being patriotic, but Americans often forget, or may not even be aware of, how quickly enthusiastic patriotism can devolve into nationalism. Patriotism and nationalism are often used interchangeably, but they are very different. Patriotism is love and pride for one’s nation, while nationalism is the idea of superiority of one’s culture, government, people and nation over others.

Nationalism has a disturbing history in our country. It is ingrained in American culture that our nation is the best in the world. In President Trump’s Fourth of July speech this year, he praised the American Republic “as the greatest, most exceptional, and most virtuous nation in the history of the world.”

Nationalist ideology begins in schools. Aside from repeating the pledge every morning, nationalism is fixed in public school curriculums. In history class, America is portrayed as the “good guy” that’s always on the right side of history. History curriculums often conveniently leave out the not so appealing parts of American history where our country wasn’t on the “right side.” For example, the full truth about slavery, the destruction of Native American nations and culture, the American military’s actions in Vietnam and the annexation of Hawaii. Dismissing our country’s difficult history to preserve a false nationalistic perspective of greatness is not a mark of a great nation.

Another characteristic of nationalism is its use as a tool during wartime to gain popular support. This is most prominently seen in the U.S. during World War II. American nationalism came into its own during the years of and following World War II. George Orwell states in his 1945 essay “Notes on Nationalism” defines nationalism “as the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labeled ‘good’ or ‘bad.’” Nationalist propaganda, especially during the Cold War, characterized the “ideal” American family as white, Protestant, conservative and upper-middle class. Singling out the American nationality as superior and more righteous than our opponents makes our actions abroad justified and easier to accept.

But, the U.S. isn’t all white, Protestant, conservative and upper-middle class. Nationalism alienates Americans who don’t fit this mold. As a country, we have lost our American values: liberty and equality. Our country is diverse, and we should be proud of that. America has to face and fight against nationalism. Ignoring our difficult history and claiming greatness is not how our country will grow. Criticism is good. Acknowledging our faults and confronting our past is the most patriotic action Americans can take.