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michael vadon // CC BY-SA 4.0

Hatred toward women, hostility toward a certain religion, and prejudice toward people of a different race rank among the most obvious sentiments we know not to express — no matter how much we may or may not feel that way. Oh, and let’s not forget, “I am a nationalist.” Surely, no adult in their right mind would be reckless enough to say that out loud … right?

Roll the tape:

“Really, we are not supposed to use that word. You know what I am? I’m a nationalist, O.K.? I’m a nationalist. Nationalist! Use that word! Use that word!” 

Oh, lordy … 

That was Donald Trump at a rally in Houston for Beautiful Ted, also known as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas), on Monday. Upon hearing the president’s proud confession, the crowd erupted in rambunctious chants of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” One may wonder whether the crowd mixed up the distinction between patriotism and nationalism, or if Donald Trump simply attracts the wrong kind of people. 

Patriotism is love for or devotion to one’s country. It is associated with bravery, valor, and duty. Nationalism, on the other hand, takes things from the honorable to the dishonorable. What separates it from patriotism is the belief that one’s country, or people, are somehow superior to other people. You’ve almost certainly heard of nationalism’s ugly cousin, white nationalism.

John F. Kennedy was a patriot. Richard Spencer, the rabid racist and white supremacist, is a nationalist. Kennedy loved his country and its citizens, but he did not see an American citizen as being superior to, say, a Swede like myself. Mr. Spencer thinks white Americans, specifically those of Anglo-Saxon descent, are worth more than those who do not fit this description. 

Credit: Chase Sutton

Human rights, as you may realize, holds little importance to a nationalist. 

I would never say that all Donald Trump supporters are white nationalists. However, if you are a white nationalist, it isn’t hard to guess who you supported in 2016.

This idea of superiority has a long and ugly history not just here in the United States, but also abroad. Slavery and the genocide of Native Americans here in the United States, and the rise of fascism in Europe in the 20th century were all justified on the grounds of superiority of one group over another. 

Mr. President, you know there’s a reason you’re not supposed to use that word. You even said it yourself! I guess you just are not in possession of the impulse control that separates a child from an adult. Or perhaps you just said it for the purpose of political gain, to attract more voters in spite of their moral turpitude. Quite frankly, I don’t know which one is worse. 

This, of course, should not come as a surprise. It is part of a pattern — one that feeds on fear of the other.

The large migrant caravan that is making its way toward the U.S.-Mexico border has drawn the ire of President Trump. To whip up the fears of Americans, Mr. Trump claimed in a tweet about the caravan, “Criminals and unknown Middle Easterners are mixed in.” To see how ridiculous that claim is, let us imagine he tweeted something slightly different. “Criminals and unknown Swedes and Norwegians are mixed in.” Oh my god, someone call Homeland Security! Björn and Lars are fast approaching our border! 

That was Monday. The day after, Trump was asked what he based his claim on. Facts? Good one! Turns out, the president made it up. “There’s no proof of anything. But there could very well be,” Trump said of his claim. At the end of the day, it was all a bunch of gobbledygook. 

But the damage is already done. People assume that, since presidents receive daily security briefings and the latest intelligence, they probably wouldn’t make such an outrageous claim unless there was proof for it. Many of these people will see Trump’s tweet reported, but not his Tuesday admission of lying. 

And here is the saddest thing of this whole debacle: That is exactly what Mr. Trump and his enablers wanted.

Trump’s decision to label himself a nationalist and tout xenophobic conspiracy theories in the days leading up to the midterm elections is a pathetic effort to drum up support from fringe elements of our country whose support played a role in carrying him to the presidency. These white nationalists whose abhorrent views were previously relegated to dark corners of the internet have now been given a champion in the Oval Office. 

This is more than rhetoric. Many of Trump’s most reviled enemies from former opponent Hillary Clinton to his predecessor, Barack Obama, and the “enemy of the people,” CNN, have been sent pipe bombs in the mail. Trump has awakened a terrifying element within our nation. Half-hearted calls for unity cannot reverse this. 

MICHAEL A. KESHMIRI is a College senior from Stockholm, Sweden studying political science. His email address is mkesh@sas.upenn.edu.

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