French President Emmanuel Macron addressed world leaders in Paris to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI. In the 20-minute speech made under the Arc de Triomphe, Macron made a clear and competing distinction between nationalism and patriotism.
“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism…by pursing our own interests first, with no regard to others, we erase the very thing that a nation holds precious, that which gives it life and makes it great: its moral values,” Macron said.
This argument comes with the presumption that patriotism is not an endorsement of current institutions that oppress minorities.
This argument also presumes that the state is something desirable; that we should orient ourselves around the survivability of the state, to which the right-wing nationalism threatens.
The morals, values and current structures under which we operate are coming under fire as the U.S., and moreover the world, are becoming more polarized in an era of dissatisfaction.
This chase of power might come from the wrong direction, as white men seek to reimplement the system they spend hundreds of years building to exclude the “other.”
But the acknowledgement of the failure of the system to provide adequate means of living and quality of life for all is crucial as we move forward.
It is important to clarify that an endorsement of patriotism is an endorsement of “America First” just as well as Trump’s nationalism.
For instance, growing up in a post 9/11 world, I remember feeling so proud to be an American. All the while, the war on terrorism was killing civilians and destabilizing the Middle East in the name of democracy.
Further, the Patriot Act, TSA and media portrayals of the “Terrorist Muslim” endorsed islamophobia in the name of being a real patriot.
Historically, in other calls of patriotism, we locked up Japanese people in internment camps, or denied protesters free speech during the Red Scare, called the police on black civil rights organizers and endorsed an empire that we viewed as the ultimate good while erasing culture and identity from the world.
This has always been the case. Conquistadors committed genocide against native peoples in the name of Spain (only five percent of the native population survived); Black slaves were kept in chains while cries of freedom left the lips of patriots; crusades against the Moors were done in the name of the empire.
The next time you find yourself feeling patriotic, critique it. Ask yourself if this is really a feeling of community, or an endorsement of historically oppressive structures. Education and awareness are key to becoming an ally. Remember, speak with, not for.