An Orgy of Hypocrisy
Today's New York Times devoted no less than four articles to President Trump referring to some other countries as "shitholes." Why the uproar? We knew that the President is a crude and vulgar person. He expresses himself in ways that offend many people. But many people also agree with the sentiments he puts into his unpleasant language. His contempt for most foreign countries, except Norway, and their inhabitants is simply an expression of nationalism that has been a serious component of his platform from the very beginning.
This nationalism consists of two major theses. The first of these describes the United States as one unified nation. Politicians constantly talk about the wishes of "the American people" as if we all wanted the same thing. But that is an obviouspropaganda move to assert that all citizens want what this Senator's or Congressperson's campaign donors want. The politicians speak for the donors to their campaigns and try to persuade the people who vote for them that they want the same thing.
This being, as we keep repeating daily, a nation of immigrants we are, in fact, fairly uncertain about our identity as one nation. Why else would we make our school children repeat five mornings a week that ours is "one nation indivisible"? The original author of the Pledge of Allegiance project was a retired admiral and then public school educator concerned to inculcate nationalism in the children of immigrants. (Among later versions of the pledge one was the brainchild of a man who wanted to sell American flags to schoolchildren.)
The talk about this one united American nation is, moreover, telling a big lie. Native Americans are not members of this American nation, neither are African-Americans, immigrants from south of the Rio Grande, chicanos. The President who advocates nationalism does not pass a day without bad mouthing his Black predecessor for no other reason than he is Black. For years he asserted that Barack Obama was not an American. The unified American nation leaves out many who dwell on this North American continent.
Even those included do not speak with the same voice or speak quite the same language. There are many deep cleavages between the inhabitants of Northern New England and the folks who live in the south of Louisiana , Mississippi, or Alabama. “One nation indivisible” has always been wishful thinking.
This first thesis of nationalism, that there is one unified American nation, is as false as the second one, namely that this nation is the most perfect nation history has ever seen. The bumper sticker "USA # 1” is an especially inarticulate expression of that belief. But we encounter it anywhere when people tell you that our educational system, our health care, our standard of living, or what have you, is better than corresponding institutions anywhere else in the world. A quick look on Google will show you that on the different dimensions of education, of health, of quality of life, etc., ten or twenty countries in the world are ahead of us. Given the amount of money we have and spend, we are actually not doing very well.
Nationalism rests on colossal self deceptions. It can maintain itself only by constantly reiterating falsehoods and that of course is what the President is doing and why so many people love him. Hearing him repeat the lies about national unity or how we are better than anyone else reassures people who have their secret doubts about this.
All the people who are nice nationalists, who don't swear when journalists hear them, who don't use vulgar names to refer to other countries, at least not publicly, have a complete fit if the arrogant nationalism so pervasive in this America is phrased vulgarly. They don't want their belief in American superiority put in the barnyard language.
But the truth is that there is no way of being a nice nationalist because to be any kind of nationalist you have to be a hypocrite and a liar and that is definitely not nice. You have to lie about America being one unified nation. You have to be a hypocrite when you ignore the failures of our health care and large parts of our education system. You have to be a hypocrite to denigrate foreigners as well as inhabitants of this continent while bragging about our dedication to equality and democracy.