Trump confuses nationalism with patriotism, brings out the worst in us

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In September 2006, in a tiny tavern off Route 61, some old friends and I claimed a dozen seats around a bar shaped like a baseball diamond and ordered rounds. Come midnight, Laura and I were the only ones left.

“Let’s finish this one and cab it home,” Laura said, but then a soft light rose over the bar (was it closing time?) and the place went noticeably quieter. The bartender, guitar in hand, pulled up a stool across the bar from Laura and me and adjusted a microphone.

Figuring we were in for a treat, we stayed put.

“He calls it The Watermelon Song,” said the drunk guy three stools down, raising his beer in mock salute. “Bartender’s good, writes his own stuff.”

Next thing the crowd is chanting, “Watermelon! Watermelon! Watermelon!” and the bartender/singer has started up, “There’s … a … n***er in the watermelon patch …” The whole place erupted, singing right along.

We could not make out every word, but there was something about how you can always find the n***ers in the watermelon patch, and if you’re good enough with a shotgun it’s just like target practice, and then there was something about New Orleans and how those n***ers down there better think twice before coming up here to our town, looking for refuge, then boom!, back to the refrain.

It was one year after Hurricane Katrina. Laura and I sat there, stunned.

A decade later, the existence of The Watermelon Song is a lot less stunning.

At a campaign rally in Alabama, President Donald J. Trump is playing his greatest hits to rabid cheers. He locks-in on a new target: professional, black athletes taking a knee during the national anthem in protest of police shootings of black men, in protest of racial injustice.

“Wouldn’t you love to see,” the president crows to his mostly-white crowd, “one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son-of-a-bitch off the field right now! Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’ ”

Professional men, reduced to sons-of-bitches. I am reminded of Clint Smith’s poem, “Ode to the Only Black Kid in the Class.”

If you’re successful
it is because of affirmative action.
If you fail it is because
you were destined to.
You are invisible until
they turn on the Friday
night lights. Here you are —
star before they render
you asteroid. Before they
watch you turn to dust.

Like the songwriting bartender in that tiny tavern off Route 61, our nationalist president knows his audience. He turns everything, even their sports stars, their heroes, to dust. And yet, they cheer.

The president does this, mistakenly, under the guise of patriotism. He does not understand, nor do his crowds, that patriotism and nationalism are diametrically opposed concepts.

As Timothy Snyder writes in his book, On Tyranny, a “nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us we are the best … endlessly brooding on power, victory, defeat, revenge.”

At an invitation-only speech at Georgetown Law School, Attorney General Jeff Sessions carried the president’s message forward, suggesting NFL players come up with more palatable means to bring attention to their issues of racial injustice than “denigrating the symbols of our nation.”

We kneel in prayer; we kneel when making the sign of the cross; we kneel in reverence. What is more palatable, more peaceful, than a man on bended knee?

Days later, the president refuses to let it go, tweeting, “The booing at the NFL football game [Monday] night, when the entire Dallas team dropped to its knees, was loudest I have ever heard. Great anger.”

What kind of president encourages great anger?

As if in lockstep, Paul Smith, a volunteer fire chief in Pennsylvania, posted on Facebook that Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, “just added himself to the list of no-good n*ggers” for choosing to remain off the field during Sunday’s national anthem.” And he refused to apologize.

Our nationalist president encourages us to be our deplorable worst. “America has a racial demagogue as president,” writes conservative Michael Gerson. “We play hail to this chief. We stand when he enters the room. We continue to honor an office he so often dishonors.”

Turns out Hillary Clinton was right. There is a basket of deplorables.

Deplorables use the n-word without shame. Deplorables march with torches and chant, “Jews will not replace us.” Deplorables scream “Lock her up!” and taunt reporters who have been penned like animals. Deplorables excoriate black men who take a knee to exercise their First Amendment Rights. Deplorables roundly boo war hero and former POW John McCain.

Deplorables are proud to know all the words to The Watermelon Song. And they have a president. His name is Donald J. Trump.

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10 thoughts on “Trump confuses nationalism with patriotism, brings out the worst in us

  1. Shirley Browning

    Teri

    I always like your articles. this one reflects a sad element in our society that has been around since humanity emerged. There is a “Water mellon Song” that is very different:

    Ernie ‘Ford sang –

    The Watermelon Song
    Tennessee Ernie Ford
    Down in Tennessee I used to sit upon the fence
    A-wonderin’ about the lack of people’s common sense

    What I didn’t then couldn’t keep concealed
    Was one great big fat watermelon layin’ in the field

    See that watermelon hangin’ on the vine
    I wish that watermelon could be mine

    The farmer must be careless
    Without a lick of sense
    Or he wouldn’t leave it hangin’
    On the vine

    Cornbread is sweet
    Pork chops are good
    Blackeyed peas are mighty, mighty fine
    But give me, oh give me
    I really wish you would
    That watermelon hangin’ on the vine

    Got a gal who loves me
    She always treats me fine
    She lets hug and kiss her all the time
    I wish that all her kisses
    Could taste half as sweet
    As the watermelon hangin’ on the vine

    Oh kissin’ is sweet
    Huggin’ is good
    Cherry lips taste mighty, mighty fine
    But give me, oh give me
    I really wish you would
    That watermelon hangin’ on the vine

    Well I see that watermelon
    So thick, so fat, so fine
    What a shame to go leavin’ it behind

    I know my baby’s waitin’
    She won’t be waitin’ long
    Now that I got that watermelon off the vine

    Oh cornbread is sweet
    Pork chops are good
    Blackeyed peas are mighty, mighty fine
    But I ought to tell you
    I really think I should
    For lickin’ good eatin’
    Eat a watermelon hangin’ on the vine

    Too bad that bar tender was so demented- even worse those who cheered him – the then deploreables

  2. Cheryl Ann Kerwin

    I have posted on Facebook once recently concerning my feelings on this NFL subject; so far haven’t heard the nasty, negative responses I DO expect to get. I am a 33 yr AF veteran and I love my country. I get teary-eyed when jets from the nearby base fly over my house and when the National Anthem is played at events (even all these ten years since I retired). But I do not take offense at people exerting their freedom of speech; nor can I “make” anyone respect the flag or possibly feel the way I do about it. We have reached an impasse with the deplorables, some of whom are people I know and love and that’s what’s so sad about it. I can’t for the life of me understand how we got where we are.

    Keep fighting the good fight Teri. You do it so eloquently! I know you won’t, but don’t ever get sloppy-don’t ever stoop to their level.

    1. Theresa Okamoto

      So wonderful to hear a veteran state this so well. I too feel the athletes are not disrespecting the flag at all. By kneeling they are respecting the flag. People seem to forget what the flag stands for and that is our constitution and our freedom. Which entails “equal rights for all” no matter the color of skin or sexual orientation, etc.

  3. jennyrecorder

    On the other side of the globe, we sit and wonder what has happened to your country. To be honest most people here were amazed such a person got elected , but then we have to remember that he actually wasn’t the choice of the majority. Between him and Kim Jong Un, the world is feeling very small and very dangerous. Thankyou for your commentary, it’s reassuring that there are still voices of reason in the U.S..

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