by Guy Walker
On a dank fetid afternoon in the middle of August, as the sweltering torridity encouraged record-breaking fires to spread even further across the American frontier, Donald Trump emerged for a group of journalists, their questions frantic, as if each one were trying to clammer over the another. His skin was more opaque than usual, like a mangled sun-roasted apricot, a glob of hellish torture that housed his gleaming white blocks of teeth. He kept his lips pulled back in order to show off his teeth like a prey trying to scare off its enemy, and answered questions about the racial-infused violence that occurred just days prior, famously uttering there “were very fine people” amongst the Klansmen, white supremacists, and neo-Nazis that stormed through Charlottesville.
It was a simple seditionary remark, another snort of his trademark grandiose ignorance, the kind he exhibited when denying he knew who David Duke was while initially running his presidential primary campaign.
Fast forward a little more than a month, when Trump is speaking at a rally in Huntsville, Alabama. His skin is softer; he’s surrounded by his unwavering compatriots peering up at their charismatic hero; he’s more at ease, and therefore even more reckless in speech, encouraging the firing of any athlete who kneels during the national anthem. “You’re FIRED!” he screams, as the crowd roars with approval, a deluge of blood rushing to his emaciated genitals.
Responses to Trump’s more treacherous remarks incite the usual bursts of outrage like they were little anger-filled ejaculations glazing the screens of countless blogs and social media platforms. Likewise, it positions any number of Trump whisperers to pontificate on what he really meant, as they condemn the media for always listening to him incorrectly. But it’s not an issue of Donald Trump as master villain or gilded hero; it’s the present manifestation of tribalism gone mad.
In The Authoritarian Personality, Theodor Adorno and his accompanying authors posited a theory on the phenomenon of the authoritarian figure, including the unwavering patriotism of the masses that contribute to his manifestation. The authoritarian figure himself is the result of a Freudian developmental model, a sexually impulsive, insecure man, catapulting with outward hostility in order to overcome his shortcomings. With overwhelming impulses from the id (disorganized instinctual drives), and an incapable mediator of reason—known as the ego—the authoritarian shoves his way to power like a desperate and lonely drunk finally grabbing an old pumpkin to fuck. Hideous perhaps, but nevertheless inevitable.
Something analogous to the Napoleon complex, Adorno et al. considered that men pursuing roles of acute power and severity tended to be atoning for their bestial malformities. It seems plausible enough—a glitch in the mass outcropping of humans is bound to eventually take the form of a vainglorious sasquatch every now and then. It’s more the hysteria of support around him that is interesting—why do blundering fools such as Franco, Mussolini, and Hitler corral such aberrant loyalty? They were grotesque figures, considered buffoons before accessing power. It’s only because patriotism is more magnetic than any god. As Adorno et al. described, “patriotism…involves blind attachment to certain national cultural values, uncritical conformity with the prevailing group way, and rejection of other nations as outgroups.” It is the blind patriotism that is so fascistic—chauvinism, by its nature, is a fetid and truculent enterprise that only manifests from a long-exaggerated tribalism, when we smashed rocks and bones to establish survival over other threatening groups.
As long as we’re still human, we’ll likely never fully outgrow our tribalism. It was a survival mechanism that worked too well. Now, we clutch maniacally only onto what we know, fearing the other shaded men outside. We hate the neighboring middle school in town, then the other high schools in the league, then sports teams or religions that differ from our own—we’re seven billion tribesmen standing with crooked cheeseheads and smeared body paint, stammering why our paddock of dirt is better than theirs. What makes it far more beastly and hideous today than when our ancestors hunched on all fours, grunting and tossing their feces, is we moderns should know better. We’re the momentary products of a 200,000-year enlightenment—one would expect us to be a little more astute of our prevailing commonalities.
But there’s reason for this lingering stupidity. English essayist, Samuel Johnson famously announced that “patriotism is the last refuge for a scoundrel.” Patriotism works like an impenetrable edifice of one’s identity, an ideological safe space for anti-intellectuals. The more illiberal corners of the political left have been justly blamed for calling anyone they disagree with a racist or a bigot—they apply it so haphazardly that when they finally do meet a legitimate racist, the term is no longer effective; similarly, many conservatives call their opponents un-American, as if this were the towering lord of all insults. It is difficult to recover from if a politician is deemed un-American—they’re now on the defensive, having to prove that in fact they are a proud member of this relatively new land.
The Patriot Act of 2001, by its very name, challenged anyone opposed to the act as the antithesis of patriotism. It didn’t matter what the contents of the act were—indefinite detentions of immigrants, the searching of telephone and financial records without a court order, the searching of a home or property without the consent of the owner or occupant. The Patriot Act passed 98 to 1 in the Senate, the only dissenting vote coming from Russ Feingold from Wisconsin, saying its provisions violated the civil liberties of citizens.
Blind patriotism is nothing new, and its tempting to think this is just one more manifestation of our cyclical human deformity, with all its baseless love for the stars and stripes. But it’s not. The patriotism of today is far more contrived than it is blind. There’s a bombasity and overachieving loudness to American patriotism today that makes it all seem so fraudulent and miserable. Men stomping around in head-to-toe camo with semi-automatic rifles slung over their shoulders, women proudly flaunting their bulging muffin-tops cinched tight with America-themed body armor, red trucks lifted to the height of houses, babies drinking breast milk from Big Gulp mugs while simultaneously punching commies—American patriotism is a fashion statement no more sophisticated than girls wearing garlands and John Lennon glasses at Coachella. It’s a shitty Halloween costume that countless Americans wear everyday. The faux patriotism of today comes out of a desperate overcompensation of life-without-meaning—they wave only the symbols of those ideals without propagating the ideals themselves.
As of 2013, 94 percent of all imported American flags came from China. Polyester showered with carcinogens. But it still works. The meaningless piece of cloth still triggers something deeply primordial in good patrioteers, like a bull who sees a red bed sheet and starts blowing steam from his nostrils. It makes the authoritarian personality that much more serious.
The monumental pettiness surrounding the national anthem debate essentially ends with the contents of the anthem itself. The entirety of “The Star-Spangled Banner” reads more like whorish pedantry, the abecedarian rhymes of which cheapen all polemics about nation and virtue. Written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry during the War of 1812, only the first verse has been extracted and used for our arduously long ceremonies preceding every major sporting event. Given that the first verse is still dragged through exaggerated undulations, minute after minute, like a glittered masturbatory spectacle in front of forty thousand exhausted beer-bloated fans, perhaps no one dare add a second verse. Adding even one more verse would compromise the attention spans for the rest of the night. Or, perhaps it was to hide the overtly racist rhymes near the end of the third verse:
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Francis Scott Key was referring to something specifically annoying to him. In response to the Americans trying to hijack Canadian territory from the British Empire, the British recruited entire families of slaves, training the men to form their own regiment known as the Colonial Marines, assuring they would not return any of them to their former American owners. Not only was it an invitation to escape a life of shackles and routine whippings and sexual humiliation, but a chance to fight against the ideological perversity that enslaved them in the first place, to openly antagonize the ubiquitary of systemic despotism. Anyone in their right mind would take the British up on their offer. Francis Scott Key—a slaveowner himself—held this against slaves, scribing his paeans of death for the opportunistic men with darker skin than his.
“Land of the free and the home of the brave” is now a meaningless phrase that still triggers the most frenzied ravenous excitement. We humans are animals that attach overbearing emotions onto words. When Trump tweets “Courageous Patriots have fought and died for our great American Flag” as reason for why professional athletes should be forced to stand during the national anthem, he’s serving a word salad of patriotic idioms that his base will recognize as their own. Every major word in the sentence ignites a shallow sense of pride and purpose; it assures arousal without providing any real meaning.
The word “patriot”, for example, wasn’t always used to describe the illustrious bravado of camo-obsessed Americans as it is today. Liddell & Scott (A Greek-English Lexicon) wrote that patriotes was “applied to barbarians who had only a common [fatherland].” It was a term used for derisive mockery, defined in Samuel Johnson’s fourth edition of his Dictionary as “a factious disturber of the government.”
The American journalist John Thomas Flynn wrote about it in his As We Go Marching in 1944, a time when even the most ardent American patriotism may have seemed justified: “[W]hen fascism comes it will not be in the form of an anti-American movement or pro-Hitler bund…it will appear rather in the luminous robes of flaming patriotism.” This is where we are today—the gilded dawn of fascism, when men and women march gladly into their weaponized barbarism. Flynn said “when fascism comes,” not “if,” as if it’s an entropic inevitability, as if we humans will invariably create dystopia in our pursuit of utopia.
The cult hero is the representative of this phenomenon, hoisted on his high stage, lamenting about why non-patriots are destroying the country. Trump managed to corral 81 percent of the white evangelical vote without noticeably understanding any Christian practice himself. Similarly, he successfully branded himself as the patriotic choice without having any history in serving the country. When he famously mocked John McCain for getting captured and tortured for five years in Vietnam, or snubbed the Pakastani-American parents of Army captain Humayun Khan, or announced on Twitter that transgender soldiers would not longer be allowed to serve in the military, he became the incarnate celebration of the faux patriot. We’re amidst the self-destruction of reason, a gloating dystopic tribunal of normalities. The world is a cube; sea cucumbers are just slimy cucumbers; and it’s patriotic to loathe and belittle true patriots.
Trump had five deferments during the Vietnam draft, one of which was for heel spurs—calcium buildup in the heel that can oftentimes be treated through stretching exercises. In an interview with the New York Times in July of 2016, he said “I had a doctor that gave me a letter—a very strong letter on the heels.” He never produced a copy of the letter, nor could he remember the doctor’s name; but it doesn’t matter because it was categorically the most patriotic thing he could have done. He was patriotic not to pay his taxes. He was patriotic whenever he grabbed a rogue pussy. He was patriotic under every golden shower, lathering his mangled genitals in the noxious suds. And if hard evidence does reveal that he purposefully colluded with Russia, Trump’s loyalists will not waver—the magnetism of the cult hero is fixed permanently.
This self-styled faux patriotism erodes away only through reason alone, as the demagoguery and supreme brutishness is slowly replaced with a more humane understanding of ourselves, until we fully abandon what Bertrand Russell called the “willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.”