4th of July and Patriotism

Yesterday for the 4th of July we bbq’d, played games, didn’t really catch any fireworks (this being California, the fires took it out of me), and of course had a great political discussion. As a Democrat I am really torn about the issue of patriotism as it has played out in the political landscape during the election season. Of course the play it has gotten about whether Obama is patriotic or not is way over the top and just doesn’t need to be dignified here by a response. But what I find interesting is the discussion about what it means to be patriotic and whether we as Democrats should be trying to “take back the flag”. The baseline of this argument is that conservatives have hijacked and draped themselves in the flag, and that loving this country is perceived as solely the domain of the right.

As far as loving this country goes – yes, Democrats should stand up and be vocal for what we love about this country, and there is quite a lot. As far as criticizing the country goes – yes we should be vocal about that as well. We love the US warts and all and we want to improve the country not be blind about its imperfections. But let’s get back to patriotism. First of all I think that criticisms against Obama’s patriotism are veiled arguments that “he is not one of us”. Second I believe it is important to understand our patriotism rather than buy into the hype.

The “he is not one of us” argument is an us vs. them mentality. It goes right along side “America love it or leave it” and calls of people being “anti-American”. I remember the alternate version of “This Land Is Your Land” that went – “This land is my land, and it ain’t your land.” It is an exclusivity that brings with it an unquestioning loyalty at a time when we should be questioning more than ever.

When you put up a flag, what does it mean to you? For a long time when I thought of this mentality of America love it or leave it and people putting up flags everywhere you could see it conjured up notions of how Nazi propaganda brought such patriotism to a boiling point that it meant Hitler could get away with… well the Holocaust. Now, before you go and claim that I am comparing the US to Nazi Germany, or Bush to Hitler – I AM NOT DOING THAT. All I am saying is that patriotism taken too far is dangerous. And what I see right now is taking it too far.

Furthermore I don’t get the us vs. them. Aren’t we all a part of this earth? I understand the reality of borders, but in the abstract they are not something I believe in. Countries imposing borders on populations have gotten us into tremendous problems – the Middle East, Yugoslavia, etc. Sure they have their uses, but why is it that an arbitrary line makes me different than the person on the other side. And in the end why am I proud of the fact that I was born on one side of that line vs. the other. For a long time the idea of being proud of, in essence, the luck of where I was born seemed very strange. Yesterday, I thought about it another way. Not as being proud of what America is, but about celebrating the values we hold in America that make it great – liberty, freedom, and as my daughter says hot dogs and lemonade. So by all means I can get behind celebrating those things.

As I wrote this I thought about pride in America in another way as well. One of the reasons why I don’t feel the pride is because the justice system, the governmental system, all of those things were created before I was born and therefore I didn’t really play a part in them. Because of the way politics has worked recently I haven’t felt like I had a voice in that either. So, because it wasn’t something I was a part of how could I feel proud about it. I guess there are two sides of that I need to work on. One being more active, that would certainly help me feel more a part of the process of democracy that I think is amazing about the US. Two not feeding into this notion that America, and the stuff I admire about it, is something separate from what we do in our daily lives. The act of raising a caring daughter, of having political discussions with my neighbors (even if we agree 99.9% of the time), of supporting other members of my community, these are all acts that feed into the system that I love. And that is something we can all be proud of.

So what is your vision of patriotism?

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