What is Patriotism?

Remember “freedom fries”? Remember the little flag in the lapel that all the politicians felt compelled to wear? Remember all the deification of the flag, the flaming rage if we don’t all worship it? That’s what Republicans think patriotism is?

A lot of people think anyone who doesn’t think “We’re Number One” is not a patriot.

And there are those who think an athlete who refuses to stand and put hand over heart when the national anthem plays cannot possibly be a patriot. Donald Trump thinks anyone like that should look for another country to live in. One sports exec called him a traitor. Does he say that about Jackie Robinson, because Jackie refused to rise and all that? Does he say that about all the other athletes, past and present, who support him? How about all the military people?

Oh, but Jackie is a national hero. Really? When Jackie joined the Brooklyn Dodgers not a single game went by without jeers and calls of “Go back home, nigger” from dozens of white “patriots”.

Here’s what I think. Patriotism has absolutely nothing to do with the kinds of superficial worship that so many US American citizens believe in.

The United States of America is an amazing and wonderful country, but we have a very bad habit of ignoring the many terrible parts of our history and our unending intolerance. Few of us, for example, appreciate what the terrible, terrible practice of slavery really meant for those who passed their entire lives enslaved, subject to brutal or fatal beatings, being sold to cruel masters, having one’s family torn apart, and so on.

Even after Emancipation, there was frequent murder by lynching with rope or fire, which didn’t end until well into the 20th century, and was gradually followed by Jim Crow laws designed to suppress every single right of black citizens, followed by unpunished murder of unarmed, peaceful black citizens, and practices designed to prevent blacks from practicing their legal right to vote—and that brings us right up to date. Certain states, having been chastised by federal officials for discriminatory voting laws, drummed up new laws to do exactly the same thing, keep blacks from voting.

So what should patriotism mean to people who have been treated like this? Are they supposed to stand with hand over heart and to feel a deep pride in what their country has meant to them?

But so far I’ve mentioned only the descendants of African slaves. My bet is that the great majority of US Americans fail to appreciate what their government has meant to so many others. How many really understand that the government sent gunmen into thousands of peaceful Indian villages where they killed every man, woman, and child? How many know that white bandits rode into the Southwest and drove all the Mexicans off the land they had managed for centuries, killing many of them.

How many know that President Jefferson, a slave owner, destroyed the economy of Haiti because  he feared a slave uprising in the US? And that this destruction lasted until the 1940s? How many patriotic Americans have heard of the Chinese Exclusion Act? How many realize that hundreds of thousands of Japanese Americans were placed in desolate concentration camps for the duration of WWII, after which they lost everything they owned?

So I ask, Who is the patriot, the one who thinks everything has always been good and fair, or the one who knows all these things and more, and refuses to think we have lived up to our promise?

How about the ones who think We’re Number One!?

Number one at what? Here’s what we’re number one at among the advanced nations of the world: the greatest percentage of our citizens imprisoned; the highest poverty rate; the most children in poverty; the greatest income inequality; the worst infant mortality rate; the greatest prevalence of mental health problems; the highest percentage lacking health care due to cost; the shortest life expectancy; the most spent on military; the highest high school dropout rate (with a few exceptions for some of these; thank you Yes Magazine). In other words, as Number One we should be at the top of the list, but in fact we’re nearly at the bottom in most of the important ways.

So, is a patriot someone who understands the realism of these failings, or someone who pretends all is well?

There is no doubt where I stand. We live in a wonderful place, but the faults of our government over its entire history have been many and costly, and the hatreds among too many of our citizens make my heart sink. Until we understand how we have failed, until we realize that patriotism cannot rest on superficial things like flags, until we treat each other fairly, until all the items in the list above improve for everyone, patriotism rings hollow and pointless.

Anyone who doesn’t feel patriotic and refuses to pretend should be someone we listen to carefully.

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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Another well thought out article – thanks

    PS – passed the link on to some friends – I think most of them feel like you do

    Like


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