“Performative patriotism” is a fancy way of describing what my father – a veteran of World War II who rarely spoke about his service – called “jelly-bellied flag flappers.” Dad always laughed at those phonies, but we now suffer a president who is exactly that type, only worse. And Donald Trump’s flag-flapping fakery is no joke.
A performative patriot is someone who, like Trump, oversells his supposed love of country, his reverence for the Stars and Stripes and, especially, his indignation at those whom he suspects of lacking his deep fervor. Such a figure will, like Trump, attempt to market these counterfeit emotions for his own benefit. And like Trump, that loud jingo is someone whose character will lead to a betrayal of American values.
Sooner or later, the true nature of the performative patriot inevitably emerges. Americans have observed this unwholesome process with Trump, whose fascistic impulses were all too plainly displayed from the beginning. Yet many Americans, including more than a few of those reporting on him for media outlets, turned their gaze away from the evidence of his perfidy.
Still, that evidence has been piling up for years, from the first intimations of his peculiar relationship with the Russian regime and his admiration for dictators around the world, to his repeated assaults on America’s traditional allies. With every tweet and every act that undermined our global reputation and diminished our influence, it became increasingly clear that he was serving an un-American agenda that only benefits our adversaries. His gross and criminal misconduct toward the government of Ukraine, which led to his impeachment, was only one example of how he advanced Russian interests [and his own] while abandoning ours.
On each of these occasions, we would shake our heads and wonder what Trump could do that would be worse. Now we know: Through negligence or worse, the president appears to have permitted the Russians to target American soldiers in Afghanistan via proxy killers affiliated with the Taliban. If that sounds unbelievable, it is – or, at least, it would be under any other presidency.
But the ugly truth is that nothing about this president is beyond belief, because Trump has done and said so many things that no patriot could abide.
No patriot would mock an American prisoner of war or a Gold Star family. No patriot would invite foreign interference in an American presidential election. No patriot would uphold a hostile dictator’s claims over the documented findings of our congressional committees, intelligence agencies and military services. No patriot would insult the allies fighting alongside our troops. No patriot would denigrate the service of American diplomats and decorated military veterans. No patriot would beg the Chinese dictator to assist his re-election. No patriot would insist that we honor the traitors who sought to perpetuate slavery.
And no patriotic president would ever demean the Constitution by claiming to have the absolute power “to do whatever I want.”
While Trump perpetrates those outrages against the nation, he hugs the flag – a gesture more appropriate to a parodist than a president. When he barks “America First,” he borrows a phrase notoriously used by the sympathizers of Nazism – and Hitler’s active agents in this country – to disguise their true aims. His newest campaign symbol, using that discredited slogan on a T-shirt, even mimics an old Nazi icon.
Any American who really puts “country first,” as the late Sen. John McCain used to say, can no longer ignore the existential threat against the republic. Our future as a constitutional democracy under the rule of law is endangered by a gangster regime of dubious loyalty. To pretend otherwise is not patriotic at all.