Nationalism and Soldier-Worship Are Always Bipartisan

My intention was to tell anyone who gave me trouble that I was a Jehovah’s Witness, or maybe a Quaker. Turns out, the only problem I suffered from sitting each time I was present for the presentation of colors, the National Anthem, and the Pledge of Allegiance at the Republican Nation Convention was the general stress that comes with sitting in a room full of people who are standing tall, awash in happy patriotism.

I’ve sat in the presence of George W. Bush and Barack Obama. I will stand for “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” but not my country’s anthem at a ball game. Not because I don’t love people, places, and large chunks of culture related to the location known as the United States of America. I won’t stand for a president, period. They’ve all got blood legacies. And I don’t stand for a 19th century loyalty oath that was written by a socialist, which kids are urged to recite in classrooms without having the slightest understanding as to why. 

If nothing else, I wouldn’t stand because if I had at the RNC, or earlier occasions, it would be so I didn’t feel any anxiety. Republican may be happy about that, as long as I did the right thing, but I can’t stomach that. I’d know it was bullshit to me, even if nobody else did.

I didn’t go to public school. My small government father’s teachings plus a large dose of reading history books lead to me feeling underwhelmed by the prospect of patriotism, and horrified by the magical incantation known as nationalism – that which causes mass murder to be beautiful, and that which makes mass loyalty oaths seem charming in your country, menacing in theirs.

While sitting during the various oaths, or standing on the RNC floor during the enthusiastic cheers, I felt overwhelmed by the prospect of countering this attitude which is bred in people almost from birth. Parents, school, civil society, so many institutions contain endless proclamations that country is the highest priority, or at least somewhere in the top three. The thought of fighting this is daunting, and no more so than when being surrounded by flags in the hands of happy Republicans.

But isn’t Donald Trump different? No, though his spasms of isolationism are intriguing (though are vastly inferior to anti-interventionism stressed by former Rep. Ron Paul types), Trump knows which patriotic buttons to press. His Nixonian law and order speech at the RNC was only the most prominent example. Warmongers such as Sen. Tom Cotton and former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani were also on hand to assure folks that Trump was tough enough to win the presidency, and win the America is the best world contest that appears to be never-ending.

Metaphorically speaking, Trump thinks America is hot, but that it could stand to lose a few pounds. He appears to be using (quite successfully) a kind of “negging” nationalism, wherein he trashes the country, but suggests again and again that he is the one to fix it and make it better. He still believes in, or is at least attempting to sell the kind of country might makes right sentiment that has made America so often a high-minded bully.

Speaking of endless war, the Democratic Party also had their convention late last month. Though I did not get to attend that in person, I got my fill of the experience thanks to the news. Apparently, the DNC did not provide the adequate number of flags  necessary to prove that those on the center-left actually love America. (Perhaps this backlash explains the cascade of flags, and the Pledge being said at a Pittsburgh Hillary Clinton rally I attended on July 30.)

The more visible controversy that came out of the DNC’s lovefest was actually directed at Trump. The Republican presidential nominee has hit back hard at the parents of Army Capt. Humayun S.M. Khan, who died in Iraq in 2004. The Khan family are Muslims, originally from the United Arab Emirates. Khan the younger died investigating a suicide car bomb after telling the man under his command to stay back. They survived, he didn’t. This act suggests that calling him a hero is not solely because he wore the right uniform, or that he happened to die in a war while fighting for the US. But that still doesn’t make the DNC having his saddened parents speak reverently about him any less disturbing.

Yes, Muslims, Muslim-Americans, trans soldiers, female soldiers, any possible demographic you can mention can die in service of an American military cause. It’s absurd that the right seems to need to be reminded of this fact. It’s more absurd that the Democratic Party – under arch-hawk Hillary Clinton – has taken the angle that the best response to accusations that Muslims can’t love America is to cheer for a dead Muslim soldier. This advocacy for a rainbow tribe of nationalism and militarism is arguably much more cynical than the Republicans’ pure, ostensibly sincere flag-waving. On the other hand, they invariably amount to the same thing in the end, so who is counting?

A few months ago, a picture of what appeared to be a Muslim woman sitting at a sporting event while the National Anthem, or the Pledge was taking place passed over my Facebook page. The comments on the original image were as xenophobic, racist, and warmongering as you would guess. Were I not a freckle-faced Westerner of Scandinavian and German descent, perhaps someone at the RNC would have taken the initiative to turn me into a fear mongering, nationalistic meme. More to the point, if the Democratic Party were any real alternative to the Republican, they would be defending people who don’t feel the need to die for America to prove their worth, not searching high and low for the perfect, diverse, deceased hero.

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and a columnist for VICE.com. She previously worked as an Associate Editor for Reason magazine. She is most angry about police, prisons, and wars. Steigerwald blogs at www.thestagblog.com.

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Author: Lucy Steigerwald

Lucy Steigerwald is a contributing editor for Antiwar.com and an editor for Young Voices. She has also written for VICE, Playboy.com, the Washington Post.com, The American Conservative, and other outlets. Her blog is www.thestagblog.com. Follow her on twitter @lucystag.