What is patriotism?

American flag background - shot and lit in studioRight before Independence Day, PARADE magazine ran this poll of the “most patriotic cities” in the United States, which was actually based on Amazon.com’s “comparison of America-themed flag sales between Jan. 1. and June 24 on a per capita basis among cities with more than 400,000 residents.” I don’t find literal flag-waving to necessarily equate with patriotism.

Indeed, I was taken by this piece by Daniel Nester in the Albany Times Union, A flag stirs feelings of uncertainty, which is also about human relationship.

Flag-waving, depending on whom you talk to, is either something one overthinks or doesn’t think about at all…

I’ve never owned any flag, unless Phillies pennants or rainbow Gay Pride banners count. I’m not what you would call a flag-waver. Now that I had one, I felt more puzzled than partisan. What if I spilled something on it? Burnt it in the fireplace by accident?

This debate turned into an allegory for my relationship with my country. Right wingers like my father revere flags and distrust government; lefties like me find flag-waving an empty gesture and place more importance on public trusts. I was of the same mind as Samuel Johnson, who wrote that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.

I’m rather of the same mind as Nester, who I have met in real life, though, in fact I do have some little US flags in our house, almost all of them secured by The Daughter

Rex Smith, editor of that same publication, what my friend Dan Van Riper calls the local Hearst rag, wrote on July 4:

Real patriotism demands accommodation of our vast differences. American democracy is fueled by disagreement: Losers and winners are equally entitled to express and hold their conflicting beliefs. You’ve got to love a country that really delivers on that promise.

So it’s hard not to view the rise of hyperpartisanship as an unpatriotic development. It’s not enough nowadays to argue passionately over issues. Now the path to victory usually includes character assassination and vows not to have anything to do with the other side. Instead of viewing issues pragmatically, and resolving conflicts with a solution that works best for the most people, politicians and thought leaders now pitch arguments as moral conflicts and demand dogmatic allegiance.

Hyperpartisanship, which I noted a few days ago is rampant in America, often paints people like me as unpatriotic; this, perhaps unsurprisingly, really ticks me off. I mean What IS American culture? I may spend the rest of my life figuring that out.

I’d probably be categorized as a liberal – though I wouldn’t necessarily write that in my Times Union blog, like Ken Screven did – but I find it useful to read other points of view. Doesn’t mean that I need to read/listen to Rush Limbaugh, because I’ve deemed him an unreliable reporter, let’s say. Still, I find no need to sign online petitions to have his show canceled.

Wish I had written this: glorifying war is a sin.

I see myself as a patriot. I vote, ALWAYS. I do really well on those online citizenship tests, such as this one (50/50, thank you very much) and this one and even this one, as an old political science major should.

Blind allegiance, though, is not my thing. Which reminds me, I know the fourth verse of the Star-Spangled Banner, from memory, and more songs deemed patriotic than most – did you know Hail, Columbia [LISTEN] was essentially the national anthem before 1931? – a function of learning them in fourth and fifth grade.

Speaking of music, here’s Only in America, performed by Jay & the Americans from 1963, which was controversial in its creation. It was banned by some stations for the shocking suggestion that Only in America can a kid without a cent get a break and maybe grow up to be President, though it was embraced by the nascent Cuban refugee community.
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“Bad politicians are sent to Washington by good people who don’t vote.” – William E. Simon (63rd U.S. Secretary of Treasury, Philanthropist)

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