I was 4 years old I still remember standing in the warm summer sun
trying to make sense of the world I was starting to know. The Vietnam
war was going on and my uncles were overseas fighting the enemy. I
didn't know where overseas was or even what an enemy was beyond the
fact they must be bad people if my uncles are fighting with them.
I was told God loved us because we were good people. I imagined God in the vein He was described to me, a great bearded giant that lived on a cloud. I didn't know anyone with a beard so my image was Abraham Lincoln's silhouette on a penny. I reasoned if God loved us He must not like the bad people. I didn't know what a war was, just that my uncles were stopping bad people from doing bad things. I remember trying to make sense of the war images on the news my father watched. Grownups said my uncles were protecting me. I loved my uncles.
I didn't know America outside of the people in my neighborhood and family, but I knew God loved America, that's where I lived, and that's what I was told. At this young age I was able to conclude however obtusely that America was special to God and our enemies were the enemies of God.
You see at 4 years old I was a perfect ultra-nationalist.
What happens if this world view that is limited by the life experience of a 4 year old is carried for a lifetime? What I have described above very simply is the basis of Nationalist/ Nazi ideology. It isn't an image of WWII Nazis. It is the image that WWII Nazi's had of themselves and many carried throughout their lifetimes, just change the location and only a small tweak to the details. This is the basis of a national chauvinism in the mind of a child.
The image nationalist ideologists around the world present to their people and what their children are raised in is exactly this. It can be right wing, left wing, or neither in policy. It is centers on the simplicity of thought even a 4 year old can muster.
" ...rather than acknowledging that nationalism is fundamentally emotional. In truth, you can't really make 'the case' for nationalism; you can only inculcate it, teach it to children, cultivate it at public events. " - Anne Applebaum former Washington Post editorial board, Nationalist Ukrainian Historian, (Wife of Poland's Foreign Minister, Radislaw Sikorski: possibly Polands next president and an ultra-nationalist)
Nationalism incorporates the symbolism of Patriotism but starts with the concept that the country is perfect. It relies on myth and rejects reality. It demands total acceptance of what you are told by community or national leaders. To be a part of the community"the myth" is accepted without question or critical thought.
According to American anthropologist Clifford Geertz in Ideology as a Cultural System "It is a loss of orientation that most directly gives rise to ideological activity, an inability, for lack of usable models, to comprehend the universe of civic rights and responsibilities in which one finds oneself located."
Nationalism and Patriotism are entirely different things. Patriotism is a love of country and the desire to make it better, just, moral in its dealings. It seeks to elevate the standing of the country and people within the world community. It does not demand its exceptionalism. It doesn't denigrate other countries.
Like the adage "you are only as good as your last game" patriotism demands critical thinking to constantly try to improve the nation's standing and the people's condition from its leaders. In a working democracy it means decisions of leaders, both local and national are constantly scrutinized on the basis of the country's accepted principles.
While it may be fine for a child to totally trust everything they are told it has a crippling effect on adults. Imagine a world where 40 year old's look for the Easter bunny or tooth fairy. When every experience must be filtered through the ideology first, what is good, bad, or moral rides on a sliding scale that can change with the next thing you are told.
The Real World Transformation in America
America has had a very long and amorous courtship with ultra-Nationalism. Lets be blunt and call it what it is- Nazism. In the 1930's "the Business Plot" was a Nazi coup attempt during FDR's presidency. Coming out of the Depression made the situation ripe for the attempt. In the late 1960's, once again America was able to skirt around this most despicable of ideologies, but at great cost to us.
Nazism isn't a hard right phenomenon. The politicians in charge that wanted to depose Roosevelt were trying to set up a Nationalist/ Nazi government in the USA. If successful it would have been ideologically aligned with Adolf Hitler going into WWII. The political leadership were Democrats.