On Nationalism, the American worker, and lessons from history

I’m glad the election is almost at an end.  With just over a week to go, I’m also glad it is looking like Barack Obama will win.  Naturally, I don’t feel like I’m jinxing the election by saying that.  (In fact, if I did believe it was possible for me to control an election with my mind in that way, I’d most certain say that I was glad to see John McCain win–in order to jinx the election for him.)  Most of all, I’ll be glad when election politics are over and done with.  One advantage to early voting (which I didn’t do), as Casey pointed out, is that once you’ve voted, you can tune out all of the political messages.  They are no longer targeted to you since you’ve cast your vote.

I haven’t commented too much on the election.  I’ve been busy moving, and then planning a wedding, and then taking part in that wedding and going off on the honeymoon.  stubiebrother  has stood in good stead, however, in this respect, and I point you to his posts for some good political commentary.  I will say, however, that I am alarmed at the apparent rise of nationalism in politics within the U.S.  The desperate Republicans are saying more and more how John McCain will "do what’s best for the country"–as if anyone who does anything else is pure evil.  Both candidates stress the fact that they have faith in the economy because "American workers are the best workers in the world".  No one in their right mind would say that American workers are the third or fourth best workers in the world, I suppose.  Nevertheless, I laugh every time I hear one of the candidates say this.  The are, of course, mostly talking about union workers.  They talk about American workers as if by virtue of being a citizen of this country, we are imbued with a magical force that makes us a better worker than someone born in, say, Canada, or the U.K., or China.  It amuses me because its the same kind of nonsense statement a parent says of their child:  "My child is the hardest worker." or "my child is the best student," or "my child is the best quarterback the school has ever seen".  It’s something that just about every parent will say, but that almost no one but the parent believes.  I wonder if the same is true with American workers.

I wonder:  what makes the American worker so great?  I know a lot of people with a strong work ethic.  I know people who never take sick days, who put in 12-15 hours a day.  Does this make them great?  Perhaps it makes them a great worker, but does it make them a great father?  A great spouse?  In my day-to-day life, however, I must live in the part of the country that lacks all of the "great workers".  I go to the grocery store and encounter checkout clerks who don’t seem to want to be there.  I go to a fast food restaurant and encounter cashiers who take your order while performing the impressive feat of remaining on the cell phone.  I encounter bureaucrats barely willing to go the extra breath, let alone the extra mile for me.  These are the great American workers of whom our potential leaders are so proud.

I’ve always considered myself patriotic.  I stand for the National Anthem.  I vote.  I’d be willing to serve in the armed forced were the need to arise.  I am happy to perform civic duties, like jury duty, without complaint and to the best of my ability.  But I’ve noticed throughout the course of the election (which is to say, over the last 2 years) that something inside of me has changed.  I find myself agreeing less with the direction in which things are going.  I find myself turned off by the uber-patriotism displayed by anyone who gets in front of a microphone.  I find myself wearied of the scare-tactics used by both sides.  And I find myself in an eerily familiar environment.  Nationalism and patriotism might seem cool.  They are useful tools in managing a people.  But as history has shown us again, and again, they can be very, very dangerous.  For one thing, nationalism can lead to imperialism and vice versa.  But we don’t have anything to worry about there.  After all, we would never invade another country for nationalistic interests.  Nationalism can lead to the subjection of one people by another.  But we don’t have anything to worry about there.  After all, we would never profile one group of people in nationalistic interests.  Nationalism can cause your friend to fear you and your enemies to want to destroy you.  But we don’t have anything to worry about there.  After all, our friends already fear us and our enemies already want to destroy us.  They have both seen the writing on the wall.  They have learned the lessons from history that we seem to have failed to learn up to this point.

I just hope it’s not too late.