Patriotism unites, while nationalism divides

Dose of Logos

I would like to thank the author of yesterday’s letter, “American culture is not dead,” for his comment concerning my article, “Patriotism does not equal nationalism” from Nov. 27. It is good to know I have readers and I hope that the author does not take this response as a suggestion that he stop. Instead, it is my hope he takes this as a clarification because it seems as though we are talking past each other.

In my article, I specifically targeted what I consider to be dishonest politicians who have blatantly associated the terms “patriotism” and “nationalism” in order to hide their real agendas — the continuation of their wealth and privileged status — behind a blurred piece of glass. The letter’s author seems to have misinterpreted my meaning — he believes that I have neglected the cultural diversity of the United States in what he sees as a “defeatist” position.

He writes that I suggested “American culture in these end-of-days is defined by its greed, nationalism, and nothing else.” But this is not what I wrote and I certainly wouldn’t agree with that. Instead I point out directly that politicians have abused the word that once signified our independence from a tyrannical power to mean something quite different in order to maintain their status in the country — the new tyrants, if you will. This has no direct bearing on the state of American culture by and large, nor do I wish to belabor such a point (since that is an article unto itself).

However, I do find it odd — and evidence that perhaps his comment is one driven more by emotional reaction than careful thought — that I am accused of somehow stripping away the fabric of American diversity. Indeed, I argue the opposite. I wish the original motto ‘E Pluribus Unum’ would return to its rightful place as our national motto — a motto which both accepts the diversity of one’s countrymen while binding them to a new identity as citizens of a federal state. “In God We Trust” is immediately discriminating, as not every American citizen puts their trust in a god, and this says nothing about those citizens who practice polytheism (as I’m sure many students on our campus do).

Surely the author can recognize that a nation can have its own cultural identity while respecting the diversity of its taxpayers. And that is my whole point after all. That we were once a culture which thrived on diversity — so much so that we had divided ourselves up into little pockets of culture. German immigrants and Italian immigrants and Polish immigrants had their own communities with strong traditions — thankfully we have moved away from this into a more unified and assimilated culture where a person or group of people no longer have to feel segregated from the rest of the country. We’re all equal. We’re all Americans. And that is perhaps my strongest point.

Even in the author’s own example he demonstrates my point effectively, though that may not have been his intention. Certainly we can point to small pockets of culturally rich areas — University campuses that seldom reflect the demographics of what one might experience outside of school in our daily lives. And his example of New Orleans as culturally a diverse environment is interesting since, ironically, he cites it as the birthplace of “American music” which suggests that the music has its own distinct identity: American. This country has its own culture, broadly speaking, where we can identify specifically “American” traditions. We have more “American” traditions than “German traditions” or “Italian traditions” and this is to our credit as a society, to be sure, that we have striven to become so inclusive.

My issue is not with diversity or with American culture in this instance, but with how politicians have framed these key issues. At one time, we were unified — not by a stagnant identity of “American” but as fellow patriots, under one cause, under a banner of freedom for all who sought it. But today politicians have unified us under a different banner — one of stagnancy and paranoia, where many believe that if you don’t conform you’re somehow “wrong” or “against America” or some other nonsensical epistemology. We have become a nationalistic society — this is not the result of diversity, but a reaction to it. And this is all done under the umbrella of “patriotism.” But it isn’t patriotism. Hence why I wrote the article.

At the end of the day, I’m as assimilated as the next American into this culture. I’m not religious, but I celebrate Christmas. I don’t believe us to be the greatest country in the world (Denmark holds that honor nowadays) but I wave a flag on the 4th of July. The difference is that I can choose to be a nationalist or a patriot. I can champion the differences of my neighbor, knowing that we’re both citizens of this country and that we share a common dream of a happy life full of liberty and justice for all people. I don’t desire to be a nationalist — someone who believes themselves superior to their neighbor because of some bigotry or another. This is far from defeatist — it is in fact empowering, existential even, that I have this choice. What I find truly defeatist is the author’s use of the phrase “end-of-days.” There is nothing I can think of that is quite as bleak as that.

Tom Verenna is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore majoring in Classics and History. His column, “Dose of Logos,” normally runs on alternate Mondays.

By Tom Verenna

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