"Demagogue": A leader who gains popularity by exploiting prejudice, pitting one group against another.
Recently, we were treated to the spectacle of a crowd chanting the slur "Send her back!"
The "her" was a woman who was born in Somalia, immigrated to the U. S., became a citizen, ran for and was elected to Congress.
She has been a vocal critic of the president and his policies.
Misguided patriotism, whipped up by demagoguery, can make folks forget the "indivisible" part of our Pledge of Allegiance.
This forgetfulness is not new. Just consider a century ago, during World War I, when misguided patriotism made some folks forget the values we Americans like to say are the foundation of our country. Values like the liberty to think and speak as one chooses; equality; diversity; unity.
Germania, Iowa/Lakota, Iowa
My mother was born in Germania, Iowa.
Her paternal grandparents came to America from Germany in the late 1880s. They settled in Germania, a peaceful, small farming community in northern Iowa.
The community included its share of Scandinavians, Irish and Scots, but Germany was the home country for the majority of the folks in Germania. And thus the name of the town.
No problem - until World War I came along. Germany was now the Other, and advertising the name "Germania" was like putting a target on the backs of the town's residents.
It would be an understatement to say that the loyalty of German immigrants was seriously questioned during those times. And if there was any ethnic pride in the hearts of those German immigrants, that pride quickly gave way to the force of superpatriotic pressure.
My mother's father, Gus Thaves, was the editor of the Germania paper at the time and also served as the community's mayor. Because there were many in the community who feared superpatriotic reprisals, he called for a vote on whether to change the town's name. By a vote of 48 to 32, the citizens chose to change the name of Germania to Lakota. (There's irony in that name too, but that's another story.)
The change of name didn't end the anti-German sentiment they experienced, but the sense of being a target was surely diminished.
Albert Lea, Minnesota
My father was born in Albert Lea, Minn.
Most folks in Albert Lea, like my father's parents, had immigrated from Norway. But not everyone: There was a German immigrant component to the community. This was no big deal - well, not until World War I. It was then that anti-German sentiment ran high in Albert Lea.
By 1918, front page headlines in the community's newspaper regularly featured the slur "Huns" when referring to Germans - a word known to mean "barbarous and destructive."
One particular story in the Albert Lea newspaper caught my eye. It told of how 11 men had lynched a fellow they suspected of being a German spy. They were charged with murder, and at trial, their attorney argued to the jury that the lynching was justified. Why? The men had merely invoked a new "unwritten law" resulting from the war with Germany.
It took the jury 40 minutes to acquit those 11 men.
I have always looked at these historical episodes as anomalies - embarrassing times in which Americans had briefly lost touch with that INDIVISIBLE part of the Pledge - and unlikely to be repeated.
But, of course, history does repeat.