Wednesday, August 8, 2012

What Does Patriotism Look Like?

The call for patriotism has been a battle cry since the birth of this nation.  From the Midnight Ride of Paul Revere (the real one, not the imagined one in Sarah Palin’s mind) and the Battles of Lexington and Concord (Massachusetts not New Hampshire like Michele Bachmann believes) to the 2012 summer Olympics, flag waving chest thumping Freebird blasting red, white, and blue tattoos have been ubiquitous. During the last four years, however, the cacophony from the right questioning President Obama’s birthplace and patriotism, the Tea Party Patriots who think their guns will stop tanks, and the clowns on Fox News asking ‘How are we going to get our country back?’ have completely eviscerated the real meaning of patriotism.

But it finally came to a head for me when I read about the schmucks, Alisyn Camerota and David Webb on Fox News questioning the uniforms of the American Women’s gymnastics team.  Camerota stated “And some folks have noticed that American athletes’ uniforms don’t carry the Stars and Stripes look as much as they had in past years. The famous flag-style outfits worn in years past replaced with yellow shirts, gray tracksuits, pink leotards. So how do we show our patriotism at the games?”  To which her equally clueless guest David Webb, co-founder of advocacy group Tea Party 365, added, “The Chinese are wearing red predominantly as that’s their national color if you will. So why not us with the red white and blue?”

Is patriotism the color of your leotard? Is it the size of your flag pin?  Is it ending a political speech with “God Bless America”?  Is it about demonstrating your 2nd amendment right by bringing a gun to a bar?  Merriam Webster defines Patriotism: love for or devotion to one's country.  But what is a country?  The notion of a sovereign entity comprised of land, resources, people, government, laws, culture, etc. I am not trying to be flippant.  Far from it.  I believe many Americans have lost their way in the patriotic zeal, and I am not talking solely about the right wing white supremacy hate groups.  I think our views of what America stands for have become so divergent we wouldn’t recognize it as the same country and it really kicked in on 9/11.

In a dark legislative joke, following the 9/11 attacks, the government passed the Patriot Act; a piece of legislation that had very little to do with patriotism.  Does a government show it’s love or devotion for its country, for the citizens of that country who elect to provide representation by passing a law allowing the government to spy on its citizens without the encumbrance of due process?

In the 11 years since the 9/11 attacks a new sense of patriotism has emerged and then a militant xenophobic nationalism went into overdrive following the great recession.  A fervour now exists that measures your devotion to America by whether or not you wear a flag pin, whether the US flag is prominent in the background of a speech, and whether you invoke God in your devotion to America.  For the entirety of this nation’s history there has always been a religious patriotism element with varying levels of influence ebbing and flowing over time.  And it is here where the secular and the religious clash as the former is devoted to a nation that doesn’t comply and conform to the latter’s Christian Nation narrative.  I abhor the trajectory we are on where patriotism becomes nationalism and nationalism becomes chauvinism.

America is not about symbols and yes I believe the flag is bit a symbol.  No America is more than pins, and uniforms, bumper stickers, and country music.  It is the America where you can protest against businesses and you can protest against the government.  America is its history of inclusion, righting social wrongs, its immigrants and its diversity, and it is the belief that every citizen has an opportunity to succeed.  Yes America; this America that I can critique and praise, this America where my parents and grandparents saved to ensure their children would have the opportunity to succeed; the opportunity to achieve and experience things that may have eluded them. 

America is its people.  It’s amalgamation is its openness and patriotism doesn’t come wrapped in a flag, it comes in the form of the right to dissent or to praise.  Whether you like Sean Penn or Clint Eastwood, Dixie Chicks or Ted Nugent, does not make you patriotic or unpatriotic.    Patriotism isn’t singing the national anthem at a ballgame or NASCAR race.  It’s in what the words mean to you.  People love to recite passages from The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution or claim to be constitutional scholars, but ask them what the intrinsic meaning of those words and you will likely get Palinesque word salad.  But what do those words mean to you?  “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” I see a nation built in equality and justice.  Not a caste system or exclusion.  My patriotism is to that ideal because that is what those words to me. What do those words mean to you? 

Demonstrating your 2nd amendment right doesn’t make you patriotic nor does demonstrating at the funeral of a fallen soldier.  Hating those that are different is not patriotism and neither is saying things like “We should bomb them back to the stone age.  My devotion to this country is in taking the long view of America.  How can you claim to be devoted to America and have no concern about the environment? The air you breathe, the water you drink, the ground you till?

If you believe patriotism is doing what’s best for the country, and making America a nation of moral strength, not military strength, moral strength, after all aren’t we only as strong as our weakest link?  Patriotism is not about hating or punishing those that we detest or fear.  I reject the symbols and embrace the actions.  Some will damn me for not getting upset over flag burning because the flag is a symbol and the 1st Amendment is still the first amendment.; the America I am devoted to is mightier than any symbol.

So I reject the politicization of patriotism.  I will salute the flag, sing the National anthem, cheer for our athletes (well most of them anyway), mock senators who make a big deal about where our athletes’ opening ceremony outfits were made, oppose those that seek to exclude, and I will continue to praise and critique because that’s what you do when you are devoted to someone.

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