Independence Day is just a week away, and political language, especially that of the election year back and forth, is awash with patriotic memes.
At a campaign event on Monday, President Barack Obama provided a familiar narrative about why people are willing to pay more taxes: because they love their country.
Obama said, “[T]here are plenty of patriotic, successful Americans all across the country — I meet them every day — who’d be willing to make this contribution again because they understand there is such a thing as the common good. They understand that we’re in this thing together.”
Many conservatives are appalled by the President’s understanding of patriotism and how it relates to “the common good.” But he isn’t the only one throwing the word around. In a recent article, Robert Reich, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley, skewered Republicans who use the word in a different sense.
Recently I publicly debated a regressive Republican who said Arizona and every other state should use whatever means necessary to keep out illegal immigrants. He also wants English to be spoken in every classroom in the nation, and the pledge of allegiance recited every morning. “We have to preserve and protect America,” he said. “That’s the meaning of patriotism.”
He goes on to assail members of the GOP for substituting “partisanship for patriotism” and for believing that unless it fits into their agenda, no motive can be patriotic.
Their patriotism is not about coming together for the common good. It is about excluding outsiders who they see as our common adversaries.
Former Speaker of the House and failed GOP Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich quipped earlier this month about his view of American’s patriotic duty.
“We want to make it clear in a calm, pleasant but direct way: Barack Obama and the values he represents and the amateurish incompetence he has proven are a direct threat to the survival of America as we know it — and defeating him is a national, patriotic duty,” Gingrich said.
As Americans make plans for fireworks and barbeques next week with all of this talk from the political sphere about what is or isn’t patriotic buzzing in the background, a columnist for Michigan’s The Muskegon Chronicle, Steve Gunn, offers a little perspective in arguing for the Pledge of Allegiance in American schools:
Back in far better days, some things, like patriotism, remained above politics.
Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, union members and management all shared a love and appreciation of the United States of America and the fundamental freedom it stands for.
If patriotism is not what America’s politicians have co-opted the term to mean, and if the citizenry is unable to turn to its leaders for a clear idea of the best ways to express love for one’s country without adhering to political paradigms, perhaps history is a good place to turn for a patriotic self-revival.
Here are some ways you might learn to be more patriotic in the week preceding the celebration of our Nation’s independence.
- Read a copy of the Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States. Hillsdale College, a longtime advocate of the American Founders’ vision, offers free printable versions here. Hillsdale has even mounted a “Read the Declaration” campaign to encourage millions of Americans to read and discuss the founding document with friends and family this Fourth of July.
- Take some time to better understand the story behind our Nation’s founding. Why did the men who created our Nation fight so passionately? What would have happened had they failed? Are there similarities between what our country has become and the tyranny they fought against? At the website Revolutionary War and Beyond, you can access thousands of historical documents related to our Nation’s founding and learn why revolution was vital, in the words of our Founders.
- The United States is currently not in the best shape in history. Modern problems ranging from a poor economy to serious political disagreements on social issues keep many Americans in a state of perpetual political polarization. This benefits no one but the political establishment of both the left and the right. With the help of the Internet, you can find that many of these problems are not new. America has seen crises, social tension and poverty before. Take off your political blinders and do some research about how some of our Nation’s problems were solved in the past.
Whether you call yourself Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, or independent or you are defined by other political beliefs, your patriotism likely transcends your political ideology and represents more a feeling of gratitude to reside in a Nation whose citizens have the freedom to agree to disagree. Learning about the blood and sweat that begot that freedom and how that freedom has been used throughout the years to better the Nation is certainly more productive than allowing the President, Gingrich and political commentators to soil the true meaning of patriotism. After all, in a free country what it means to be a patriot is up to you to decide; and George Washington, our Nation’s first President, warned Americans about those who would seek to do it for you in his farewell address:
In offering to you, my countrymen, these counsels of an old and affectionate friend, I dare not hope they will make the strong and lasting impression I could wish; that they will control the usual current of the passions, or prevent our nation from running the course which has hitherto marked the destiny of nations. But, if I may even flatter myself that they may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism; this hope will be a full recompense for the solicitude for your welfare, by which they have been dictated.