noun / pa·tri·ot·ism / pā-trē-ə-ˌti-zəm – love for or devotion to one’s country.
I’ve chosen patriotism as the subject of my first post because it is, or should be, a national unifier. There is currently much that separates the citizens of these United States, but true patriotism should be neither a contributor to nor a casualty of that separation.
While members of all political stripes are prone to labeling their opposition with derisive terms, the one most commonly hurled at liberals by conservatives is “unpatriotic”. I think they do so, in part, because instead of believing that government is an obstacle to personal success and societal harmony, many liberals believe that it is the engine of both and strive to make it represent all of our people while maintaining concern for the rest of the world’s inhabitants. In that pursuit, questions are asked, accountability is demanded and global implications are considered. Some conservatives are appalled by public criticism of state or statesmen and disgusted by any mention of placating another country or protecting a non-citizen. They are, therefore, quick to brand the perpetrators as unpatriotic. The definition of patriotism above, however, does not include “blind faith”, “unquestioning allegiance” or “the exclusion of others”.
Other right-leaning individuals proclaim those of us who refuse to embrace the “America First” doctrine as unpatriotic. After all, shouldn’t that term be the very definition of U.S patriotism? That is exactly what some demagogues have successfully imprinted on the minds of many unemployed or underemployed blue-collar and white-collar workers alike. Workers who want returned to them the paycheck and the (false) job security they used to have. “Buy American” and “Hire American” accompanied with the promise to end the hemorrhaging of precious resources in the form of aid to other countries are offered as the tide-turning panacea to the ever-changing global economic landscape and to human-replacing technology. The minds of those workers are fertile soil for the rhetoric of isolationism.
What American (what human?), doesn’t want to feed and shelter their family, or to feel safe from harm, either domestic or foreign, or hope that their children will have a better life than their own? But students of both history and of current events should understand that isolationism does not benefit the entity that cloisters itself nor the groups they are attempting to exclude. The followers of “America First” are not stupid, but they are fragile and frightened and thus, vulnerable. The opponents of the “America First” dogma are not unpatriotic or “un-American”, but have been unsuccessful in showing that it is both false and dangerous. We’ve got to do better.
So many citizens have cloaked themselves in false patriotism, both because it is easier than meaningful exploration of issues and because they believe it affords them protection from criticism as their critics risk being seen as unpatriotic. Indeed, many on the left have been bludgeoned with the unpatriotic stick for so long that they are no longer interested in being thought of as patriotic.
With all due deference to the Merriam brothers and Noah Webster, I would like to suggest an expansion of their definition above to include “and the belief that one’s country is uniquely qualified to make the planet a better place along with a commitment to help it achieve that goal”. I think that notion of patriotism can give all sides some common ground. The fight regarding how best to reach Utopia will continue, but let’s acknowledge that we all want to get there.