Let it be known up front that I didn't grow up in an uber-patriotic household. Dad didn't display the flag at the front of our house, whistling an out-of-tune but nonetheless heartfelt version of taps while lowering the stars and stripes at sundown every day.
I always felt a little uncomfortable in the presence of these deeply flag-waving people, mainly because I grew up in a culture of deeply rooted skepticism. The extremely patriotic were no different from religious zealots in my mind and even as a child I found it difficult to entertain any sort of trust in elected officials. I found myself constantly reminded of the evil deeds, doublethink, and unethical methods our government had fostered. This kind of dubious record was, incredibly, in the same breath, combated by a desperate willingness to mythologize and romanticize the historical impact and lasting legacy of its noble deeds.
To put it another way, a friend of mine from Australia recently asked me a question, in all seriousness. "Why do you Americans criticize your President?" In a country where a spirit of common purpose and common unity trump partisan strife, by contrast, our desire to eagerly criticize our elected leaders simply did not compute in her manner of thinking. Naturally, I was quick to provide all of the reasons why George W. Bush has a shockingly low approval rating, but she took it in as would a student of a foreign language. With absolutely no frame of reference, she had no choice but to accept what I was saying at face value, even though a thorough explanation still did little to address her confusion.
The largest of many ironies about patriotism is that it is used frequently as a damningly negative critique of a person or a political figure. It's particularly been used to criticism the devotion to country of liberals and paint them into a corner as somehow anti-American and traitorous. Seldom is patriotism used as a way to bolster the appeal of a candidate or a person. If it is used in the latter fashion at all these days, it's a perfunctory sort of qualifier, one that hardly anyone acknowledges as rooted in more than window dressing or platitude.
So tomorrow brings us another 4 July, a day in which we are all supposed to reflect back upon the freedoms and rights granted to us by a band of radical lawyers and assorted rabble-rousers. While we are routinely implored to contemplate the role of American democracy in our own lives and in the world around us, we instead are happy to get a day off, drink to excess, and shoot off fireworks.
I can't say that my breast swells with pride and devotion to country on Independence Day. While I certainly appreciate the good things this country has to offer, I know I am not alone in wishing that this nation would adopt a totally different mindset and means of conducting business. It's difficult to be thankful when so many reforms are in desperate need of adoption and when this country's current government has conducted itself in ways with which I strongly disagree.