American Nationalism

546712_10150975431096954_1581073109_nScotland is a fairly tolerant place at the best of times. Our attention to human rights is meticulous for the most part, and our rights to freedoms of speech, a fair trial and liberty are ones we might not vocally revere, but most certainly respect with an intrinsic and habitual adherence.

To extend such an observation to a country like America would thus seem fair – their emphatic constitutional adoration far outweighs our own solemn observances. Does it not follow that, in the sweet land of liberty, liberty itself would exist a firm and universal feature?

You would think. But ‘Murica, as well we know, is hardly a historical beacon of equality or progressive thought.

It is a nation still haunted by racial division and governed by gross financial inequality on an astronomical scale. Ultimately, America is a nation blinded by its own success – that infamous ego and entrepreneurial attitude, where so long as the money’s pouring in, everyone wins and if you’re not winning, well I’m sorry buddy – sucks to be you. Love it or loathe it, America is the sovereign manifestation of the free market and proud to be.

imagesWe see their global influence and follow their leadership with both admiration and envy. The American brand continues to flourish as the stars and bars billow proudly in the wind overhead. It’s only when a complete nutter like Donald Trump comes along, then, that we are reminded just how troubled America actually is.

Not troubled by Trump’s views of course, which could come from any of many uber-conservative broadcasters or commentators – but by his apparent political momentum. After calling for the refusal of entry to Muslims into the United States, yet another poll this week found him to be the outright front-runner for the Republican nomination. Kudos, Mr Trump. Kudos.

Despite alienating much of his own party and many others the world over in the process – and offending most decent, normal, coloured, poor, Hispanic, Asian, Middle-Eastern or “different” people ever to have existed – Trump continues to thrive. The man who publicly labelled all Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and called for Muslims to be visibly identifiable (a la a certain faith group in a certain European country during the 1930s and 40s); this is the man who Republican America would have govern the world.

But why? Why is someone with views as extreme and utterly despicable as Trump still in the media spotlight at all? His ethnic stances cause division and tensions where none need exist. He is a xenophobe. He is a preacher of thinly-veiled hatred with a contempt for impoverished and minority groups so bitter and deep that it borders on supervillainous. His rhetoric is backward and poisonous, yet still he is taken seriously among a considerable number of the US population.

That we’ve continued to do business with him for so long is perplexing. His fascist leanings are a direct threat to global security, while the extremity of his views would have been enough in any other case to have him ostracised from the public sphere entirely. But alas, he also just happens to be a very rich white man, with someone else to blame for America’s problems.

If America is the sovereign embodiment of capitalism, Trump is its human proponent: the fat-cat with the fat ego to match. He is wealthier than most who are reading this article will ever be combined; he is successful and ruthless in business; he shoots from the hip and has no qualms with standing up for what he believes is right.

And he has money. Lots and lots and lots and lots of money.

In those respects, Trump is very much the all-American poster boy – the type one might find pointing determinedly out of a military advertisement with a cigar  wedged between his teeth. He represents the boom of Wall Street-gone-by and the hardwired vision of USA as being better than every other country on earth. He is Captain American, only with a fatter wallet, bad hair and that dark side that encourages all potential heroes to use their powers (lots and lots and lots and lots of money) for evil. “What he believes is right” is very much the issue.

Or rather, what many Americans appear to believe is right. Trump is thus the tip of a much deeper iceberg; and iceberg of ethnic superiority and far-right extremism that has been much examined in the European context, but has received little attention in the American exemplar. That people like Trump can call for the reduction of Muslims to second class citizenry so brazenly; that anyone can look at the San Bernardino shootings and see a case for more guns and less brown people in the world is naturally disturbing to some, but apparently inspiring to others.

And why? Because in pointing the finger elsewhere, his followers are allowed to believe that yes, America is still great: our problems aren’t our own, it’s all those funny looking guys’ fault! In precisely the same way the Fronte Nazionale can make gains by linking high unemployment to immigration, rather than the economic shortcomings of Hollande’s increasingly lurching government; or how the tabloid press here in the UK can convince readers than not only are refugees responsible for our sky-high benefits bill, but they are also responsible for stealing all of our jobs.

Attacking immigrants and cultural minorities allows the public to believe that their country is indeed superior in some way. That the patriotism they’ve had brainwashed into them from the second they exit the womb is not meaningless after all. That the imaginary borders they use to separate themselves from less-important human beings are strong and enduring.

In this case, far right extremism goes largely unchallenged because America believes in America. Trump is thus vying for public support by encouraging fear and suspicion of others; by conflating this archaic and decidedly nationalistic caricature to hyperbolic proportions – ones which tread a very fine line between the laughable and utterly terrifying – and it seems very much to be working.


Comments (41)

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  1. Richard says:

    Just one point – the American flag is known as the “Stars and Stripes”. The phrase “Stars and Bars” refers to the Battle Flag of the Confederacy and is nowadays reviled as a symbol of white supremacists (and the Dukes of Hazzard).

  2. Illy says:

    “We see their global influence and follow their leadership with both admiration and envy.”

    You might, I don’t.

    I look at them and see a bully, scared of what will happen when the world realises that that’s all they are, desperately grasping for some reason to keep their military overseas and engaged with something, so that they don’t have to face the issues that bringing them all home would showcase.

    I look at Iceland’s leadership with admiration and envy.

    1. Fraser says:

      That segment was written with a hint of sarcastic romance as a means to contrasting with the latter half of it. Safely assume there are no American leadership supporters here.

      1. Illy says:

        Fair enough, my sarcasm detector *is* broken.

        Though on the talk of elected upper houses, I do quite like the American one as a compromise solution between vastly different demographics:

        Congress is essentially our Commons: Each representative represents (roughly) the same number of people.

        The Senate has 2 representatives from each state, as a balance for the less populated states.

        Imagine if the House of Lords had 4 representatives from each of Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and that was it?

        1. mairi morrison says:

          Congress encompasses both ‘The House of Representatives’ (analogous to The commons) and ‘The Senate’

          Just a small tweak to the poster who said ‘Congress is essentially our Commons’ should be ‘House of Representatives is essentially our Commons’

  3. bringiton says:

    Trump epitomises the wealthy American who has no need for intellect nor wisdom but just an eye for the main chance and unfortunately he appears to be appealing to George W’s constituency (i.e. the ones he could fool all of the time).
    When we have Trump in the White House wanting to nuke the Muslims and Putin in the Kremlin threatening the same,we will truly have arrived at Armageddon.
    This is no longer funny.

    1. Alan says:

      I think it is unlikely Trump will be the Republican nominee. Cruz is more likely. He is well-funded, on the far-right, and smarter than Trump. Texans have a baleful and disproportionate influence on US politics. The state would do the world a huge favour if it were to secede, as it often threatens to do, from the US.

  4. nodrog says:

    Great article – you are spot on Fraser. Unfortunately the US electoral system requires a massive amount of money to even get considered for election. Therefore only hard right rich folk are the candidates. Donald is the daddy of them all. So let us hope Hilary wins. Even our own rich boys, David and George are prepared to welcome Donald here. Says it all. Roll on Independence then we can copy the Scandinavians not the USA.

  5. duncan says:

    ‘It is a nation still haunted by racial division and governed by gross financial inequality on an astronomical scale.’

    Sorry, Frazer. First, point me out a country that isn’t. You are assuming the conclusion before you begin. This is illogical reasoning which signals laziness to understand things better. It is the journalistic equivalence of a Donald Trump rant. You predictably aim your sights a bit too tightly on America using Trump as a its personification and assume there is something in the underlay of America as a whole which is more sinister and menacing than any country. There is a tendency to do this in the media, a moral equivalence between America and IS, for example. But do you really think Americans are really ‘fascist’. When I think of fascism I think of Mengistu Haile, Ethiopia, Jean Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier, Haiti and Foday Sankoh, Sierra Leone just to name a few. These boys are real dictators. Also, I know the Americans were guilty of the slave trade but you have to consider they also got rid of it. In all my years alive I’ve never once heard anyone take on the topic of the white slave markets in the Barbary Coast, which lasted a lot longer, where over a million Europeans were enslaved. Cervantes in Algiers being one,for being Christian. America has its shadows and its head cases but it is far from being alone on this.

    1. Fraser says:

      I have taken care here not to generalise to all Americans (perhaps there could’ve been more clarification) and point out that I’m referring to Trump & his supporters in this instance. As for the aforementioned issues being in no way exclusive to America alone, I fully accept your point, but this piece is a take on current American affairs specifically – the points you raise, while entirely valid, could comprise a number of more elaborate and specialist articles in themselves. I hope that clears things up somewhat.

      1. duncan says:

        normal, coloured, poor, Hispanic, Asian, Middle-Eastern or “different” He is a xenophobe.

        I agree with you calling Trump out on this, Frazer, but you then go on and criticise him for exactly the same thing, his skin colour. ‘A rich white man’ Accusing him of an ‘ethnic stance’ and then taking one yourself. It doesn’t stack up. and its zenophobic. Look, I’m a middle aged white guy who cleans stairs in building six days a week and I just manage. It seems you think white men have privelidge access to money or wealth.

        1. Fraser says:

          In terms of American politics I don’t think there’s any denying that being rich and white is an advantage.

          1. Fraser says:

            *I too am a white male, just FYI.

          2. duncan says:

            Fraser, the point is you cant characterise him by his race then criticise him for being a racist. It’s not on.

  6. kibby says:

    Really weird Trump chose to take a dive like this, everyone knows Muslims weren’t behind 9/11.

    1. kailyard rules says:

      Can you please enlighten us on that point.

  7. Kevin Brown says:

    It is of course fascinating that The Donald continues to rise in the polls, including even after his recent ‘Muslins’ comment (misspelled advisedly, as many racist Americans are doing right now). There is one reason for this that I believe is being widely overlooked, and it’s a critical one to grasp.

    While Trump is indeed an ignorant, bombastic fool, the stupid among the US electorate, comprising vast numbers of them, at least dimly perceive that Trump is ‘his own man’, because he is rich enough to not be beholden to special interests. For at least a generation, Americans have been governed by self seeking apparatchiks in the service of the 1 per cent, the deal being that the said apparatchiks would exercise the levers of power to make the world safe for: the military industrial complex, big med/big pharma, big oil, and AIPAC; and in return all would be personally enriched either in office (the Dick Cheney model) or out of office (the Tony Blair model). The huge losers in this game have been the US population, who are often working three MacJobs to make rent and charging their groceries on credit cards. This voting block doesn’t grasp much, but they do get this: their ‘elected officials’ have sold them down the river for personal gain.

    There has been, I believe, a conscious effort by the oligarchy to dumb down the US population over the same time period, through television, video gaming and the full panoply of US media, a campaign that has been fantastically successful. It has now become downright unfashionable in the USA to, for example, read a book. It is a much better use of time, it is thought, to watch Fox News.

    So now what we are seeing is an inchoate revolt of the ignorant, who are parking their votes with The Donald as a protest; and a near panic among the 1 per cent, who may not have their servants in place to administer their affairs come 2009. A sad aspect of this is that the apparatchiks are getting virtually a free pass for their own stupidities as the US ‘left’ has fits of vapours about Trump. ‘We came, we saw, he died’ Hillary for president anyone? No discussion of her fitness to govern right now, it’s all about Trump, all the time, 24/7 (news cycle).

    I don’t know if this is an accurate historical comparison, but it may be: was The Hitler elected to the chancellorship of Germany in 1933 on a similar dynamic? Might the 1 per cent now be ‘hoist with their own petard’, as an electorate of ignoramuses strikes out on its own?

    1. tickle says:

      //It has now become downright unfashionable in the USA to, for example, read a book. It is a much better use of time, it is thought, to watch Fox News.//


      1. Kevin Brown says:

        Not quite sure what you mean by ‘sauce’. In case you mean ‘source’, check out Susan Jacoby’s book ‘The Great American Age of Unreason’. I haven’t read it, but there is (or was) a one hour talk by Jacoby on You Tube about her book. I’m sure I don’t have this right in detail, but I do have in right in overall terms; she states that more than a third of Americans believe that the sun revolves around the earth. Reason, and reasoning, and culture, have been unfashionable in the USA for a very long time. Her book must be ten years old now.

  8. Alf Baird says:

    I think many people would agree that freedom of speech is an important human right. However, PC-type people tend to be rather self-righteous; it simply does not seem rational to them that an alternative view, however seemingly unpalatable to them, pertains. They are also rather dictatorial, if not brutal, in seeking to block freedom of speech, to those with seemingly unpalatable views (to them). Indeed, they wish to punish those with supposedly unpalatable or ‘unconventional’ views, to them, which is clearly discrimination.

    Coercing or pressurising people to think the way you do ends up merely in ‘groupthink’.

    1. Fraser says:

      No calls to block or ban anyone in this article. Merely observations.

      As for alternative views, I’m a firm believer in the absolute need for alternative & “unpalatable” opinion. If indeed we are to function as democracies as we claim to, then any and all opinions must be entertained – it is down to those who oppose them to question them in any case. That doesn’t mean these “unpalatable” opinions can’t or shouldn’t be spoken out against – because many people happen to think what Trump said was hateful or wrong in some way doesn’t make it “group think”.

      And as much as a xenophobe would condemn Muslims for being potential terrorists, I would challenge a xenophobe for allowing narrow and irrational hatred to undermine basic human compassion. As airy-fairy and romantic as that might seem, it’s nothing about being PC or restricting freedom of speech.

      1. Alf Baird says:

        “As for alternative views, I’m a firm believer in the absolute need for alternative & “unpalatable” opinion.”

        That’s good to hear, but your perspective, however measured, is diminished each time you and others challenge alternative opinions by resorting to name-calling. Labelling someone a “xenophobe”, or a “bigot” as some of our esteemed Parliamentarians have done, is not laying out an alternative opinion, it is merely name-calling and labelling, attacking the individual rather than the message.

  9. Stuart says:

    Amusing to see everyone climb on their moral high horses of righteous indignation over Trumps comments…

    But what of President Jimmy Carter?

    Is he to be banned from Scotland?

    Have his honours withdrawn?

    As in 1979 Jimmy Carter banned ALL Iranians from emigrating to the USA…

    Every single one of them.

    Those Iranians in the USA had to report to have their visa’s checked, and if they were not valid they were deported.

    Jimmy Carter did more than Trump.

    Yet I don’t see anyone condemning him, I wonder why?

    1. Elizabeth Magill says:

      Pres. Carter did nothing but follow the law when it came to the Iranians living in the US. If you, as an Iranian had overstayed your visa you were put on a plane and sent home. As for not allowing Iranians to come INTO the country, the government did that after the US was technically invaded following the “students” take over of the embassy.
      I’m almost positive that you do not live in the US and so for your information, at that time if you were a resident Alien (not a US citizen) you had to check in with the authorities once a year in the month of January, and if you changed your address you had a month to inform the authorities of that change.
      That is no longer necessary and I know because I was an alien then and I still am now.

  10. Hamish says:

    All you need to know about America is that 20% of them believe Joan of Arc was Noahs wife.
    Who would have thought we would live in a time to bear witness to an America disappearing up it’s own orifice unlubricated “ouch” that’s gotta hurt. I am an agnostic, but every now and then you have to consider the existence of a just God when you consider Americas decline and imminent dire future.
    I have lived in America and am convinced that all the elite drink bottled water, for how else could you explain how dumb the others are, unless their water source is spiked with mind numbing additives.

    1. Nick says:

      A large number of “educated” Americans (some of them scholars, teachers etc) also believe that Joan of Arc fought against the “British”.

      (The Scots fought on Joan’s side)

  11. voline says:

    In defense of Americans in general:

    “Americans like Muslims more than they like Donald Trump”

    – Philip Bump. The Washington Post 2015-12-10.

  12. john young says:

    America or at least American “corporatism” is the real enemy not Putin,we have blindly followed them in whatever scheme they are involved in regardless of the cost to the innocent people that lie in their path.

  13. Fed up with the Lies and Propaganda of the London Media Industrial Complex says:

    America is just carrying on where the British Empire left off, continuous wars and invasions. it’s the Anglo American Establishment.

  14. J.A.B. says:

    While the US’s racism/inequality does have deep historical roots, Trump is the current manifestation of 30-40 years of dog whistles starting with Reagan’s labelling of ‘welfare queens in their Cadillacs’ and ‘buying T-bone steaks with food stamps’. As the years have gone on, and the population gets browner and the middle class is hollowed out and the rich ascend into the stratosphere, the dog whistles get louder and louder, until finally you have Trump, who’s thrown the dog whistle away and just releases his inner racist/sexist/classist for all to see. He also has the ultimate in recognition in the US (and here too): the TEEVEE. For ten years, Americans have watched the Donald on ‘The Apprentice’ as he has peddled a distorted version of the American dream, and these two factors have culminated in the perfect storm. Hopefully, one that will blow over soon – but he’s pulling his fellow Repuglicans further to the right (if that’s possible). Will they stay there?

  15. ian says:

    How can you take any future American president seriously when they are completely unable to control the problems with guns(25,000-30000 deaths a year due to guns)and also not have a coherent health system for all.The USA is not a good example of a democracy at work.

    1. MLL says:

      Spot on Ian.

    2. duncan says:

      Ian, where exactly do you get your concepts about democracy from? Is this a pro British post- a defense of the British Welfare System? It is envied you know.Anyway, which democracy at work is your framework based on? I’d be interested to hear.

  16. Hamish says:

    I see America as the transition of ish, from the massive influence of the Scottish and Irish in it’s initial colonial establishment, and eventual independence, right through to it all being usurped by the latter day Jewish.

  17. Alan says:

    “…far right extremism goes largely unchallenged because America believes in America.”

    I found this article OTT. It gets close to sinking into ugly American stereotyping. America is a large and diverse place with lots of political viewpoints. There are many in the US who are appalled by Trump and deeply opposed to the politics of fear and division.

    America isn’t that different from the UK or lots of other places (or do you buy into American exceptionalism, good or bad, just like all those establishment types who buy into British exceptionalism?). Democracy is a fragile thing. There’s always an ever-present risk that a minority faction (religious, economic, …) will co-opt the system to their own ends. Hume, Smith, Madison and others spent a lot of time worrying about these sort of issues and what sorts of checks and balances were necessary to prevent one faction dominating. There is no magic solution. So here we are, with a corrupt political class and a mass media that reflects the interests of a rich minority. As inequality gets more extreme, is it any surprise a demagogue comes along to exploit the situation? Be afraid, there is a good chance that there will be pitchforks.

    1. nodrog says:

      “America isn’t that different from the UK” Oh yes it is they have a gun for every citizen, including, children in the USA and they have a constitution that states they have the right to bear arms. Other than that your comments are acceptable.
      I lived there for four years and believe you me it is very different and I have no desire to live there again.

      1. Alan says:

        Yes, the gun thing in the States is crazy. Although it depends where you live. The rate of gun deaths in the Northeast, where there are often much stricter gun laws, isn’t so different from some of the higher rates you’ll find in certain regions of Europe, although still significantly higher than the rate in the UK. In Southern states, such as Louisiana, the rate is about 7x the rate in the Northeast.

        What I find interesting is the relative sense of fear and efforts to combat various types of death. The US has spent trillions combating global terrorism since 9/11 (well, supposedly that was what they were doing). And not to much much effect and one might reasonably argue to negative effect. However, the risk of death due to terrorism in the US is tiny. In most years the number of people who die as a result of terrorism is zero. If we include 9/11 roughly 3000 people have died as a result of terrorism in the US since 2001. In the same period getting on for 500,000 people have died from guns (suicides, accidental, homicides). The rate is actually ticking upwards and no meaningful federal efforts have been made to reduce gun deaths.

        What counts as ‘terrorism’ is also interesting. For example, politically motivated killings and other types 0f violence against abortion providers and minorities tend not to be classified as terrorism. They are also very quick to forget American support for political violence in the UK and Ireland during the 1970s and 1980s.

  18. Michael Scott says:

    Sorry to be pedantic but I can’t help it.

    In French they say “Front National” (FN)

    Fronte Nazionale is Italian, but maybe you wrote it like that on purpose? (I don’t get it)


    I’ll be applying for French Citzenship (I’m 6 years an expat in France) to vote against them in 2017.

    “Berk” (yuck) as the French say…

    1. Michael Scott says:


      1. Ah. Someone makes an honest mistake, then you do too. Life eh?

  19. matilda says:

    “Prejudice, not being founded on reason, cannot be removed by rational argument”
    (Samuel Johnson)

    I think of this when I see Donald Trump in action.

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