eastern orthodox church
Depending on your political bias, U.S. President Trump is either a black hole, or a radiant orange sun. Either way, you cannot escape his influence. Every tweet and stray comment is picked up, and picked apart, by the media. As Jon Stewart recently pointed out - with a degree of insight sorely lacking in the majority of his peers - the media just can't help but take his bait:
"What he's done well is appeal to their own narcissism, to their own ego," he said. "The journalists stand up and say: 'We are noble! We are honorable! How dare you, sir!' And they take it personally."

"Now he's changed the conversation to - not that his policies are silly or not working or any of this other things - it's all about the fight," Stewart said. "He's able to tune out everything else and get everyone else just focused on the fight. And he's gonna win that fight."
But it's not just his attacks on the media (who are just as keen to attack him). Trump manages to dominate the news cycle, and even create the news cycle, by getting them to focus on issues of no real substance, simply because Trump said it. He's a master of distraction by controversy - troll level 'POTUS'. Or maybe it's unintentional and the media personalities are just that obsessed with them. Either way, I increasingly feel like this guy:

As Joe Quinn discussed in his latest SOTT Focus, Globalism Vs Nationalism in Trump's America, Trump created yet another controversy in a two-year long string of nonstop controversies: he said he is a nationalist at the post-midterm-election White House press conference and during a rally in Houston. Naturally, people were irate, because nationalism is bad. Right? Well, as Joe wrote, "Words and their exact meanings matter", so let's take a closer look at the n-word in question.

Patriotism and Nationalism

Back in the early 1800s, there wasn't any difference in meaning between the words patriotism and nationalism. But nationalism drifted into its own semantic space over the decades. Whereas patriotism kept its meaning - "love for or devotion to one's country" - nationalism drifted in the direction of "loyalty and devotion to one's nation". Not a world of difference, right? Aside from the distinction between nation and country, can one really love something without loyalty?

But nationalism also acquired other meanings. As the Merriam-Webster article linked to above points out:
But the definition of nationalism also includes "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." This exclusionary aspect is not shared by patriotism.
That's where the negative connotations come in: nationalists only think of themselves, in opposition to other nations or supranational groups. In other words, they're disagreeable and somewhat xenophobic. One can be patriotic without being nationalistic - say, loving one's country, but loving other countries just as much or more. And while most nationalists are probably patriotic, it's at least possible not to be. Perhaps they don't love their own nation so much as hate everyone else.

But it's even more complex than that. Just read the Wikipedia entry on "Nationalism" to get an idea of just how complex; note the number of different and competing theories of nationalism, not to mention the 42 different types of nationalism listed in the sidebar.

This Quora entry distills it down to the following:
Patriot: Expresses the emotion of love towards his country in a passive way

Nationalist: Strives for independence and the interests and domination of a nation and expresses his love or concern for the country in an active political way.
So patriotism is primarily an emotion, that finds expression in various ways - say, national-flag-patterned underwear and repetitive verbal outbursts of the name of one's nation. Or simply the tearful reverence and hand-on-the-heart comportment one takes while joining in one's national anthem. But nationalism adds in political action: one doesn't simply love one's nation, one does something about it. Similarly, I may love my Orwell's 1984, but it takes a special breed to write a book-length commentary and analysis, or act as a posthumous publicist by actively promoting it to a new audience. To succeed, nations need patriotism and a bit of active nationalism, it seems to me.

But the Quora piece also includes this bit from George Orwell himself:
When talking about nationalism and patriotism, one cannot avoid the famous quotation by George Orwell, who said that nationalism is 'the worst enemy of peace'. According to him, nationalism is a feeling that one's country is superior to another in all respects, while patriotism is merely a feeling of admiration for a way of life. These concepts show that patriotism is passive by nature and nationalism can be a little aggressive.
And I suppose there are some Orwell admirers who take their love to the extreme of brow-beating their friends to read the book, then berate them if they don't like it. Again, there's that disagreeable aspect. But as both Wikipedia and Merriam-Webster point out:
In practice nationalism can be seen as positive or negative depending on context and individual perspective. Nationalism has been an important driver in independence movements around the world, such as the Greek Revolution, the Zionist movement that created modern Israel, and the Irish Revolution. It also was a key factor in the Holocaust perpetrated by Nazi Germany.
...can we draw any firm conclusions about whether one or the other is pejorative? The answer is: it depends. It seems certain that, at least with nationalism, it may mean different things to different people.
Like the contrast between nationalism and globalism, perhaps? No, that would be too nuanced a position to take for the mainstream media, given that it concerns Trump. But if Trump really isn't very smart or precise with his speech - as the same media would have it - wouldn't it make sense to make sure to understand what kind of nationalism he's talking about before criticizing him for it? In fact, he did explain what he meant by it in the very same breath, albeit not very eloquently:
"I love - and you know what the word is? I love our country. I do."
That's patriotism, or nationalism as it was originally understood.
"You have nationalists. You have globalists."
Here he sets up the distinction: nationalists and globalists. (He leaves out a third category: indifferent.) One focuses on national interests, presumably, and the other focuses on global interests, like 'nation building' and 'humanitarian intervention', and supranational organizations like the undemocratic EU. That's the theory at least; in practice, 'globalist' interests often work to the detriment of national interests, and global ones as well - just look at Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Europe.
"I also love the world and I don't mind helping the world, but we have to straighten out our country first. We have a lot of problems."
Here Trump brings the two previous statements together, implying what he means by the distinction: "nationalism: love for one's country", "globalism: love for the world". And he does so by adding that he actually does have global interests in mind, but that the U.S.'s problems come first. Not only does the whole, short answer make sense; and not only is it not an endorsement of ultra-nationalism of the type characterized by certain disagreeable nationalist movements across the globe; it is also the morally and pragmatically correct way of seeing the world. I say that because it works, on all scales: just as you put your own oxygen mask first so that you can save your children, and just as you make sure a drowning person doesn't drag you down with them by ensuring you stay afloat, a nation must solve its own problems first before it can help others. That's how practically all other normal countries operate geopolitically, as nation states. As Sargon of Akkad points out, you wouldn't ask a poor, Third World African nation to put its interests second, giving away its resources because other nations needed them.

That's not to say this is Trump's actual policy, of course, or that he is following it successfully - just that if the media had any integrity, they would be focusing on that very issue - policy - and not blowing insignificant remarks out of context, basically implying that Trump just admitted he's the next Hitler.

American Exceptionalism

Aside from the ridiculousness of criticizing Trump for calling himself a word with multiple, contradictory definitions by assuming he's using one particular definition with no proof that's what he meant, there's something even worse: by the standard definition of nationalism, the United States has been a nationalist country at least since WWII, if not earlier. Heck, even Hillary Clinton expressed nationalist sentiments in her October 2016 op-ed for Time magazine:
There's always been something special about the United States of America. President Abraham Lincoln called us the "last, best hope of earth." President Ronald Reagan said we are a "shining city on a hill." And Robert Kennedy called us a great, unselfish, compassionate country.

I couldn't agree more.

If there's one core belief that has guided and inspired me every step of my career in public service, it's this: the U.S. is an exceptional nation. And when you add up all our advantages, it's clear we're indispensable too - a nation all others look to for leadership.
"Nationalism is a feeling that one's country is superior to another in all respects." To the degree that Americans truly believe this - that their country is exceptional, for whatever reasons - they're being just a tad nationalistic. And according to the American ethos, that's perfectly acceptable. To people in other countries, however - particularly those who are victims of American globalist policies like the above-mentioned 'nation building' and 'humanitarian' intervention - it just looks like arrogance. That's why in the past 17 years or so, the term has been used by critics of American foreign policy to point out the U.S.'s view of itself as being an 'exception' to international law. In practice, the U.S. simply does whatever it pleases with impunity, regardless of international law. As Putin told Obama in 2013: "It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation."

And this gets to the real problem of nationalism, the one that even the critics of Trump's breed of nationalism don't dare to bring up.

Your Highest Value Is Your God

In an article on the recent controversy regarding the Patriarchate of Constantinople's decision to grant full independence to the Ukrainian Orthodox Church, The Saker quoted Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos from his book The Mind of the Orthodox Church:
Saint Maximos the Confessor says that, while Christians are divided into categories according to age and race, nationalities, languages, places and ways of life, studies and characteristics, and are "distinct from one another and vastly different, all being born into the Church and reborn and recreated through it in the Spirit" nevertheless "it bestows equally on all the gift of one divine form and designation, to be Christ's and to bear His Name. And Saint Basil the Great, referring to the unity of the Church says characteristically: "The Church of Christ is one, even though He is called upon from different places". These passages, and especially the life of the Church, do away with every nationalistic tendency. It is not, of course, nations and homelands that are abolished, but nationalism, which is a heresy and a great danger to the Church of Christ.
Nationalism, like any concept relating to human experience, is an attempt to capture and describe a pattern of feeling, thinking, and behavior. And like all human experience, these patterns will be guided by a set of implicit values. In the case of nationalism, we find patriotic feelings, thoughts of national exceptionalism and self-identification with that nation, and politically-oriented behaviors in line with those thoughts and feelings. But what values lie behind those things? As Jordan Peterson puts it, the thing you value most is your god.

For example, if drugs are your god, they will be the most important thing in your life, trumping all else. If you receive a bit of money, what are you going to buy? Food or drugs? Drugs. And when you're broke, what will be more important: your relationships with your friends and family, or drugs? Drugs - you'll steal cash from their wallets or pawn their stuff just to get high. Getting high outweighs everything else, including your own present and future well-being and the values that make those possible, like responsibility, honesty, and respect.

Anything can be your god: your career, your bank account, your stomach, your happiness, your academic reputation, your political ideology, your family, your community, your country. The smaller the sphere of your god, the more likely that other people will consider you selfish, self-centered, narcissistic, and hedonistic. Simply put, they won't like you or admire you. In contrast, the wider the sphere of your god, the more people will admire you. Just compare how we see drug addicts to how we see people like Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. We may have compassion for addicts, but no one sees them as having fulfilled their potential or making the world a better place. We have compassion because we see the destruction they cause to themselves and others and see in them the potential to be better, but we don't admire them. And we admire people like Gandhi because their values are so all-encompassing as to want the best - and work towards the best - for the greatest number of people possible, now and in the future. At least, that's one reason why we do so.

So what are the values inherent in nationalism? On the positive side, you may genuinely appreciate the nation in which you live and want the best for it. That's better than individual narcissism. And if you are guided by other values, too, you'll actually get along with other nations reasonably well. Like a competent individual in everyday life, you will negotiate on your own behalf, not expecting others to do so for you, and make reasonable concessions to the other party. You won't be belligerent or deceptive, because not only will that ruin your ability to have future successful negotiations with other nations (or the same nation), you may not get anything out of it, and you may even cause a conflict that harms both sides.

But when nationalism is your god - when your national identity is your highest value - you enter the realm of identity politics. Your group becomes all that matters. In other words, just as other people - even family and friends - do not matter to the addict, other peoples and nations do not matter to the nationalist. They are expendable, inferior, and beneath contempt. That may even include members of your nation state who don't agree with you. In relatively healthy societies, such extreme nationalists are unpopular in the same way that narcissists and other self-absorbed individuals who treat other people like dirt are unpopular. No one likes them.

White nationalists, Ukrainian nationalists, Zionists, and Russian nationalists, to pick just four, have bad reputations, for good reason. They all value their racial, cultural, and/or ethnic identity above anything else and have contempt for other nations. (Thankfully, in the U.S. and Russia, said nationalists are a small minority and are disliked by the majority of their respective populations - not so in Ukraine and Israel.) Competing groups and internal dissenters become the enemy. White nationalists (and Russian nationalists) might reject other races and whites they perceive as race traitors. Ukrainian nationalists have gone so far as to consider Russian Ukrainians worthy of death. Zionists have contempt for the large segments of Jews who disagree with their ideology. Just as they see themselves as a collective, they see other groups as collectives, not individuals. And if those collectives are seen as threats or oppressors (non-whites, whites, Jews, Arabs, separatists, Russians, capitalists, communists), the nationalists feel totally justified in punishing any member of that collective. Individual guilt or innocence is irrelevant. You are guilty by virtue of your class, economic beliefs, religion, ethnicity, politics.

When you value your arbitrary group above all else, everything else is judged by reference to that group. If the most important thing is your nation, any and all means available in the service of promoting your nation's interests are fair. So what's more important? Your nation or telling the truth? Your nation. Your nation or not murdering? Your nation. Your nation or not stealing? Your nation. "My country, right or wrong." It's this kind of nationalism that justifies invading other countries, killing and enslaving your enemies, torture, assassination, black propaganda, arbitrary arrests, violation of international law, spying on your own citizens, violating other nations' sovereignty, forming convenient alliances with reprehensible groups because of aligning interests, and so on.

And you know what? The US was doing all of those things before Trump. According to ex-CIA officer John Kiriakou, this is essentially the mindset of the CIA. From John Duffy and Ray Nowosielski's new book The Watchdogs Didn't Bark: The CIA, NSA, and the Crimes of the War on Terror:
"The CIA wants to hire people who are comfortable working in ethical or moral gray areas. They have a conscience, they can fail a polygraph, but they're comfortable breaking the law." ... Kiriakou admits to feeling "perfectly happy to break the law if it's for 'God and country.'" ... "You are trained to lie all of the time. Your whole life is a lie ..."
The problem with the CIA's hierarchy of values, as far as I can tell, is that national security is their god. Country? Yes. But God? Not so much, at least not any God worthy of the capital G. When weighed next to truth and justice, 'national security' wins every time. And the problem here - and in all the other examples of lesser gods listed above - is that whenever your highest value is limited to a relatively small sphere, you lose your soul. By rejecting higher values you allow evil to enter, and moral decay progresses like a disease.

The genius of Christianity - which is the genius of its primary founder, the Apostle Paul - is that its central dogma has the effect of breaking down superficial group barriers. You are not your nation, your race, your gender, or your class, as the Metropolitan makes clear above, or as Paul himself put it: "There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus." For Paul, this message was universal in principle - it could apply to anyone. But there was a catch: it only really applied if you accepted it and lived it out practically in your everyday life. Jews and Greeks could be Christians, but in order to do so they had to transcend the identity politics of their time and stop seeing themselves primarily as Jews and Greeks. They had to put aside their 'little gods' like ethnicity, class, and gender.

But the inner logic of the dogma is still universal. Every individual shares something in common: the spark of the divine. Every individual has value. The creation of a new identity group - a common origin and presence "in Christ" - thus has the slightly paradoxical effect of creating a group that respects the individual, values them in and of themselves, and sees their inner potential. This is the genius of Christianity, but I think it's also its weak spot. As Kiriakou demonstrates above, and as the Patriarchate of Constantinople has done recently with its decision to cave in to external (and internal) political pressure, the message can be lost when we lose sight of what that wider shared identity really means and reduce it to the scope of political expediency.

Of course, the ideal of Christianity is a tall order, rarely manifested to its fullest. But despite the churches' flaws and the moral failings of individuals within them, that's what they're here to do: to present an alternative to the limiting identity groups based on arbitrary categories. What matters is who you are, and what you do: your own individual character.

Back to Trump

To all those professional and armchair pundits, i.e., people with opinions: if you're going to bash Trump for being a self-proclaimed nationalist, or if you're going to bash nationalism as if all its varieties and complexities could be distilled into one simple bad thing, for the sake of consistency you're going to have to reject the following:
  • American exceptionalism
  • Zionism
  • Ukrainian Banderites
  • The CIA
All of these operate on nationalist principles, and not the good kind. But good luck getting CNN and MSNBC doing that. All four have the full support of the same media who criticize Trump for simply saying he's a nationalist - the irony being that the type of nationalism he endorsed is actually much better than the type they implicitly endorse.

I can only conclude that Trump's critics are offended not because they think nationalism is bad. They're fine with nationalism when it suits their interests. No, they're offended simply because 'Orange Man Bad'.