Thursday, July 03, 2008

Patriotism, and Why It's Often in Short Supply

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.


Chuck B. said...

My Dad is a black man who worked as a demolitions expert for the army in the Korean War; he fought and defused munitions in some of the war's bloodiest battles. He returned to racism and segregation. He never understood Viet Nam vets and he always put the flag out for the 4th. He always sings the national anthom at games he attends and sees no reason to travel outside the country because this one is the best there is.

He's also a Proud Left Wing Democrat who fought for civil rights, knew Martin Luther King and RFK was an advisor for Johnson, Carter, and Clinton as well as many other politicians.

He taught me that in a land of free thought, Patriotism is what you want it to be. It's your love of your country, you define it and letting anyone else do so is just shame on you.

My Ultra Lefty chest will swell with pride this July 4th, because no matter what is being done in my country's name now, I know I have the power to try and change it.

I've seen the evil of racism beaten back. I've lived to see a rainbow of people support a black man for President.

I also know that inspite of how I may be treated by the racists still out there, this country is still one to be very proud of. Part of that pride is knowing that we can fix it and make it better and our very constitution demands that we do so.

Our country could elect its first Black president. How many black Prime ministers have there been in England? France? Italy? Holland? Switzerland? Has there been one in Austrailia?

Are we perfect? Heck no, even our religion has some racists who are masquerading as conservatives in it.

Should we party? Yes. Because that's part of our are culture. We are the culture of work hard, play hard. I don't know about others, but kicking back and relaxing is a pretty good way to celebrate the efforts of that group of Rabble rousers (particularly Franklin bless his horny heart).

I would even be so boorish as to say tht part of our contemplation of democracy is that we can take a day off. I think the ability to be relieved of unremitting toil has a certain democratic feel to it. Remember, the pursuit of Happiness?

Am I exaggerating? A little, but this nation stood up and fought back Evil in a world war, it openly wrestles with its demons: vanity, lust, ignorance and prejudice and still manages to look good enough that thousands want to life here.

LA, a US city, was the first city to make a profit hosting an Olympics. Now that's something to fire a rocket off of right there!

Oh I know we've got a lot to change, and on the 5th I'll be as disappointed as any lefty, but I think there are enough things to feel pride about for one day.

And if Obama gets elected, I for one hope to have a party playing Charlie Daniels "God Bless America, Again".

FranIAm said...

Great post Kevin.

In our screwed up culture, we have come as a nation, to confuse patriotism and nationalism.

And it is that unchecked nationalism that is terrifying.

Patriotism actually calls out for dissent and correction.

Which is something that you, for example - are great at, you patriot you!


Nationalism you do not do well. Thank God. As you have both a conscience and a brain, and that you employ critical thinking skills regularly, you frankly make a lousy nationalist.

Batocchio said...

Patriotism is like religion in that the people who make the most ostentatious fuss about their virtue due to their patriotism or religion are usually largely full of crap. The real thing isn't merely a tool for social bullying or political advantage.

Natalie said...

I like your writing style and substance. Thank you.