Making the Familiar a Little Stranger

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Have you seen the reactions online to the release of a video of kids performing a warm-up number at a Trump rally held at Pensacola, FL, a couple days ago?

If not, then I’ve seen a lot of social media jabs that insinuate that this bizarre routine is more akin to what we’d expect from modern-day North Korea or Nazi Germany in the late 1930s — after all, using kids in that way… Sheesh. And the lyrics…?!

Freedom’s on our shoulders, USA!
Enemies of freedom face the music, c’mon boys, take them down
President Donald Trump knows how to make America great
Deal from strength or get crushed every time

Watch it for yourself.

As noted in the above-linked Mother Jones article:

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And who are the Freedom Kids?

Picture 7What’s curious here, at least for a scholar of religion who’s trained to (as that old nugget goes) make the strange familiar and the familiar strange, is that it doesn’t take much of a shift in perspective to conclude that this is just how nationalism works — persuading (or is it training? Dare we call it propaganda?) the young to have a sense of allegiance to a nation is not something new. We do call it the pledge of allegiance after all, no? That every day of the work week millions of US kids stand in their classrooms and face a flag and repeat a nationalist loyalty oath, for years of their lives, seems not to strike these commentators as interesting, nor are many curious about students singing a song at school, as kids, and then, repeating it as adults, prior to occasions like sporting events — a song that’s all about an all-night perilous fight and bursting bombs.

Where’s the outrage over spoiling the innocence of youth?

I hope my point is obvious: this is just how large scale social identities work; these workings are invisible to us, of course, when they’re groups of which we’ve been trained to be members — those loyalty oaths and the repetitive rituals attached work, if you give them enough time, for we’re not all born already knowing which flag to salute, right? Or that you even need to pay attention to things called flags. But when a group with different — maybe even competing — interests and sensibilities shows up, and engages in their own ritualized collective behaviors within our eyesight, well, we can’t not stare and conclude it’s strange and exotic, to be sure, probably even dangerous.

The condemnation and criticism is thus it’s own nationalist backlash to an alternative idea of the nation being performed.

So who would use kids like that? Although we don’t all have to tap our toes to that particular tune, we likely ought to recognize that we all do, all the time. In fact, we ourselves are products of our own elders doing that to us, years ago — all of which makes the start of that Trump rally not nearly as exotic as some seem to think.