Maybe the best way to live out the American dream these days is to sell our homes while they’re still worth something, convert our dollars to eros while they still have some value, learn German, and move to Bavaria.
In the wake of much political debate and talk show commentary over the them-versus-us issue of the war in Iraq, patriotism is a word that’s been bantered about quite a bit lately. We all know what the word means, don’t we… or do we?
My dictionary says that patriotism is a noun meaning love for or devotion to one’s country. The idea is simple enough, but it’s pretty darn slippery when you actually try to grab hold of it. What I mean is this: for Americans to be seen as being uniformly patriotic we must all love and be devoted to our country in the same way and to the same degree. If we’re not, some of us will think that others are less patriotic… or “un” patriotic. Take, for example, Barrack Obama’s recent choice not to comply with the conventional practice of wearing a U.S. flag lapel pin to display his patriotism. Or better yet, John McCain’s opposition to the current adminis- tration’s refusal to abide by the Geneva Convention in the War on Terror. Both men have had their patriotism called into question for these things.
Because I love my country but hate so much what the current administration has done to it, I too have had my patriotism impugned. It’s not right to speak out against the country’s leadership in times of national emergencies, don’t you know. If you’re not in support of the President’s “vision for victory,” you’re not supporting the troops, don’t you know. Ah… Bull-Squashy!
For me, demonstrating love for and devotion to one’s country means doing things and sometimes sacrificing things so that all can be better-off, not just the top two percent. It means strengthening not weakening Constitutional protections for individual rights and liberties that were won and defended by generations of Americans that have come and gone before us, generations that left us a legacy of truth and justice. It means honoring and perpetuating that legacy. It means giving one’s fair share, and more when one can. It means standing firm against and opposing autocratic rule.
Now, I’m not about to start burning flags in protest, but I am now able to understand why some might want to do so. I am now able too to understand why some of my students don’t want to stand in class in the morning and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in unison with a voice heard over the loudspeaker. They, like far too many Americans these days, have become jaded by all the claims and contradictions made by our elected representatives. Promises! Promises! And the rich keep on getting richer at the expense of the poor. My students see it every day; they know how hard their parents are working, many of them two or more jobs each, just to keep their kids’ noses above water. Forget about getting ahead. They see how expensive it has become to get a college education and what happens when someone gets really, really sick in a family that’s not covered by health insurance.
Never has the gap between the super rich, the just plain rich, and the ninety-percent-plus rest of us been greater. No wonder we are pulling ourselves apart, polarized by mass-media political appeal to wedge issues like abortion and gun control. What was it that Patrick Henry said? “These are the times that try men’s souls.”
I guess what it comes right down to is that I may not be as patriotic as I think I am. If being a patriot means that I must also be a loyalist, then all these chest-beating, holier-than-thou Republicans in Texas are right about me. Or maybe I’m more patriotic than I think, a little guy sitting at my computer on weekends trying to communicate to all the other little guys out there about how in a democracy it doesn’t make “Common Sense” for the reins of government to be put on the auction block every couple of years so that a different set of rich and powerful might have all the say for awhile. I don’t know. I just don’t know. But I do know that I’m sick and tired of all the excuses government makes for not making any progress on the immigration issue, on the subsidizing of economic activities that don’t need help, on fixing the problems that they themselves have created with education, Social Security and Medicare. I’m sick and tired of the gutting and ham-stringing of agencies that had been legally instituted over time to protect us and our environment against the excesses and abuses of industry, the pharmaceutical industries, the insurance industries, the energy and petro-chemical industries, the banking and commercial credit industries. Most of all, I’m sick and tired of government spending our economy into bankruptcy for wars it started over false presumptions and lies.
I guess Oscar Wilde knew what he was talking about when he said, “Patriotism is the virtue of the vicious.”
One of my good friends recently said, “Maybe the best way to live out the American dream these days is to learn German and move to Bavaria.” I laughed when he said this, remembering back to the 60’s when the phrase, “America – Love Her or Leave Her,” became a popular response to protesters of the Vietnam War. But, No, I thought, No, I’m not yet ready to leave her, not so long as there is hope. Canada is looking better to me all the time, but America’s still a pretty good place to live, I think, and I have to believe that it’s possible to make her a better place. But that’s not about to happen if we let our arrogance and pride stay in the way. When we do this we lose the ability to make good decisions and we end up doing stupid things like preemptively invading other countries on lame excuses because they have something that we want. Gee, wasn’t that why we went to war the first time in the Persian Gulf, to deny Iraq the spoils from doing the same thing?
So, for those of us who are still trying to make up our minds about which candidate to get behind in an election year that’s already been well under way for months, maybe it’s okay for us to rethink our traditional veneration of patriotism, if only just a little bit? Maybe we should consider what it really means before we start criticizing one another for the lack of it.
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