Enacting Patriotism

This morning’s bike ride was as beautiful as they come in the North woods. It was cool, but warming fast, the sun was rising and piercing its way through the morning haze that will soon be afternoon humidity and then probably evening showers. About half way through my ride I passed the big red, white, and blue tent set up in the convention center parking lot. Ah, 4th of July week. The stark primary red and blue colors separated by the white, where in contrast to the orange reflection of the sun on the lake against the backdrop of forest green.

4th of July is always a time of reflection for me. Actually confusion, is more appropriate. During my time as a politically astute person—beginning during the 1980s, it appears to me that patriotism is a concept to be taken hold of by different groups with different viewpoints, and then used to divide, exclude and preclude. During this time, the right (and moving further to the right each year maybe) of the political spectrum aligned itself with Christianity and then took sole ownership of the concept of Patriotism (with a capital P). And then any challenge to the actions of government is then labeled as unpatriotic (and un-Christian). This is where I struggle. The Declaration of Independence states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

We are a nation built on dissent. I am amazed that the American experiment has worked as well as it has. Creating a community out of a shared purpose of being dissatisfied with something else is certainly not a strong foundation upon which to build a community. Yet here we are in a country that, despite many faults and misdeeds, still continues to be a country where the three branches of government do balance the power—even if at times from one’s political vantage point the decisions are not favorable—there is still balance of power. This is a country where heads of state are not overthrown or forced to flee the country after a changeover of leadership. This is still a country where I can write this and have no fear that I will suffer persecution because of the content of my thoughts and ideas expressed. This is still a country, where, with the march of time equal rights are increased—even if there are detours, roadblocks, and setbacks that curtail these rights for stretches. It may not be a perfect union, but does become more perfect (generally) with the march of time. Maybe it survives because there is a single core belief upon which we continue to return. Notice the founding fathers said “…that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights…” They did not say with the, our, or my Creator. Therefore, it is against the wishes of the founding fathers to use my own vision of the Creator to deny Life, Liberty or the pursuit of Happiness.

So yes, I’m proud to live in this country even when I am critical of what it might be doing, or ashamed of what it has done in the past. But still, maybe because of the stranglehold on Patriotism by the ideological right during my formative years, I correlate the bright bold combination of the red, white, and blue colors with blind faith in a government. I’m uncomfortable with this as this is often enacted as unquestioned belief in American exceptionalism and even imperialism. But, let’s look at the next sentence of the Declaration of Independence:

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.

I translate “The government shall not be changed for light and transient causes” to mean that when you don’t like a Supreme Court decision, to call for resistance using violent images and to openly ignore the legal standing of the court, or call for scrapping the court and starting over by some of our political leaders as dangerous and reckless because it can (and I believe has and will) incite and foment revolt and violence. Dare I say this seems unpatriotic to me as it contradicts the Declaration of Independence. Now am I claiming ownership of Patriotism? Well, this is the way it goes, doesn’t it. A nation evolves, opinions change, and powers shift with the march of time. It seems that instead, patriotism should be a concept to unite, include, and permit us to enact a story in which “We the People of the United States, [work] to form a more perfect Union.” I leave you then with the question I wrestle with during this time: How do we enact patriotism?

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