Here is your country. Cherish these national wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance.~Theodore Roosevelt
Nationalism – that word is getting thrown around a lot recently. Trump is a nationalist, isolationist. These words are being used without definition or anecdote, they’re being flung around as if every person should know what they mean. But in my experience, even if you know what nationalism means, you may not know what it breeds.
My first up-close look at nationalism took place when I was 19 years old. At the time, I was dating a survivor of the genocide which occurred at Srebrenica, Bosnia. Up until then, I had only understood nationalism to be a bold word underlined in AP European history textbooks. It was a word I’d put on one side of a study card with its definition on the back. It was a word that I recognized without understanding.
Nationalism: Loyalty and devotion to a nation; especially: a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.
Yes, I knew what it meant, but during my 11-month relationship with a Bosnian national here on a war-refugee VISA, I began to understand nationalism in a way that I never had before.
On this man’s closet door hung a scarf, blue and yellow, the colors of the Bosnian flag with white words “I Krv Svoju za Bosnu Moju”. My Blood for My Bosnia. Those words resonated with me. To me, they were beautiful. They also made me feel deeply lonely, like I was a child without a country. Never had I felt such an intense emotion for my own homeland, not even in the wake of 9/11. But then again, never had I been forced to endure a war on my own soil.
And it’s true, nationalism is beautiful, but with all beautiful things, it is also dangerous. As the months passed, “my” Bosnia began to take shape for me, and it was a confusing mess. The more I learned about the fall of the former Yugoslavia and the ensuing Balkan Wars, the less I seemed to understand. How could someone born in Bosnia, to Bosnian parents, who happened to be Catholic see him or herself as Croatian? Was he or she not simply a Catholic Bosnian? How could it be possible for a tiny nation, smaller than West Virginia, to divide itself into thirds? How could people wake up one day and all of a sudden see their neighbors as the enemy?
I was fortunate. I grew up in a post-9/11 America that was full to the brim with patriots, but I had never been a part of a country wrapped up in nationalistic fervor. I had been raised in a country that valued the principles of immigration and assimilation. I was surrounded by African-Americans, Mexican-Americans, Irish-Americans, Italian-Americans. These people, whether generations removed from their ancestors or freshly arrived, retained their cultural heritage while managing to become embedded in the American fabric. Put simply, I grew up in a nation that had no “other”. So to me, seeing nationalism in practice made no sense.
But what seemed so confusing to me then makes sense to me now. Then, I had not experienced nationalism in practice, I had taken my unique American experience for granted. Now, in a time when patriotism is giving way to nationalism, my eyes are opening. The thing that I once found to be so beautiful is also oddly divisive, because somehow, to have that awe-inspiring sense of self that nationalism requires, one also has to be stripped of any other identity.
To perform such a cleanse, we must first define what self we will rally behind. Donald Trump has done this for us. He has gone about systematically defining what it “means” to be American for the past year. What it means is to be a white, Protestant, straight, able-bodied male or subservient female.
In creating this identity, Donald Trump has not only set us back decades, but he has also given strength to all those who feel disenfranchised. He’s created a home for people who feel like I once felt, like a lost child. He is preying on a feeling of isolation that is created for those of us who don’t define ourselves as anything other than American. He is the devil disguised as Peter Pan, ready to lead the lost boys home. Except, like the true Peter Pan, the one who existed in the dark mind of J.M. Barrie, this Peter will make sure to slaughter all those children who should desire to grow up and grow apart from their hero.
Do not doubt for one second that this is in fact what is happening here.
What I once found to be so beautiful, has turned ugly. What the Trump phenomenon has led me to understand is that feeling like a child with no country is vastly superior to feeling like a child with a country gone mad. Because in Trump’s America, you must be an American’s American. You must bleed red, white and blue and scream One Nation Under God at the top of your lungs. To be anything else is to be un-American and thus “other” and “other” is dangerous to the nationalist ideal and thus must be destroyed. #Merica is more than a hashtag to be laughed at, and we should all be aware of this now. The Heartland of America feels that their country has been hijacked by the other, and they will do anything to get it back.
It is our responsibility as a society to make sure that this dark Peter does not get his hands on the lost boys of our country. It is our responsibility not to divide further, but to unite. We must reach across the aisle and give our neighbors a boost up. And the disenfranchised must try to remember that no matter how lost they feel, they have been, and will always be, Americans. No one can take that from them and it therefore does not need to be protected.
We don’t need Donald Trump to protect us. We are many things, but first and foremost, we are Americans, and we are strong.