Democratic Underground

Apropos Patriotism
July 7, 2001
by TygrBright

It seems fashionable to slang "patriotism" right now amongst my fellow-liberals. As a bona fide semantics geek, this makes me nervous. I feel impelled to enter a caveat:

I am a patriot.

I am an American patriot.

I am a patriot of the country that committed military and cultural genocide against the indigenous peoples who occupied the land my nation now claims.

I am a patriot of the country that built much its wealth on the backs of an enslaved race, relegated them to second-class citizenship even after emancipation, and continues to perpetrate (and ignore the perpetration of) manifold cultural, economic, and social injustices upon them even today.

I am a patriot of the country that permits unchecked capitalist greed to degrade the lives of millions of men, women, and children, valuing their souls and spirits at naught, and their sweat and blood and labor, grudgingly, at just a fraction over that.

I am a patriot of the country that in its thoughtless arrogance rates the comfort, convenience, and wealth accrual of its elite as a higher priority than the most basic human rights and dignities of its fellow-nations throughout the globe.

I am a patriot of the country that regards its ability to satisfy the evanescent gratification of today's consumers as infinitely more important than preserving a livable environment for our children and grandchildren.

I am a patriot of the country where I can write the preceding five paragraphs and publish them in a public forum and not have to worry about hearing a hostile, official knock on my door in the middle of the night.

I am a patriot of the country where I can take my concern about an issue or a problem to a committee of my fellow-citizens, advocate freely on behalf of it, and convince them to incorporate it into a platform that will guide the leaders I elect in making my country's decisions.

I am a patriot of the country where I can walk into a voting booth and make a decision about to whom I will delegate my power of self-governance, and not be punished for that decision.

I am a patriot of the country that permitted my parents sufficient economic opportunities to raise healthy children, gave me enough education to make it possible for me to continue educating myself, and sheltered me from the horrors of living on, or next to, a battlefield.

I am a patriot of the country where my grandparents' and parents' bones and ashes rest in peace, where there are streets and buildings that hold my memories and the echoes of my youthful voice still ring in some timeless dimension.

I am a patriot of the country where there are still millions who hope for more equitable tomorrow and a more just future, and are willing to offer their work and their passion to make it so.

I am a patriot of the country where ideals of generosity, charity, liberality, and concern for the well-being of others still produces outpourings of individual gifts at the news that disasters and wars have devastated strangers halfway across the world.

I am a patriot of a country struggling eternally to express the best ideals of humanity's altruism, in spite of its continual and shameful lapses into the worst of humanity's self-interest.

I am a patriot of a country enduring a painful and prolonged adolescence, with immense potential for good or evil, a country that needs me, and millions like me to tip the balance to a positive maturity.

These reflections give rise to the question: What is patriotism?

Is it the blind belief in one's country's superiority to all others? No. That is parochiality, pure and simple. It might have passed for patriotism in a younger America, intent on the developmental tasks of survival, but we have grown beyond that.

Is it the unquestioning support of one's country's actions and policies, and the vigorous defense thereof? No. That is jingoism, deceptive and destructive. It is, again, the ego-assertion of immaturity, of a country that is unwilling to face the complex dilemmas of growth and the costs of ripening to wisdom.

Patriotism is an expression of love for one's country. Is a country real estate, pure and simple? Is it the souls of its citizenry? Is it the collective history and pain and struggle we have all shared throughout generations? Or is it all of the above?

Just as it is destructive to withhold my love from a human family member whose personality includes grave flaws, I cannot withhold my patriotism from a country whose history, past and contemporary, is eloquent of human frailty.

I need not tolerate flaws, I need not enable or encourage them. I bear the responsibility to contribute whatever I can to overcoming those flaws, to learning from our history and our failures. I must come to terms, fully and honestly, with the evil done in my name, rectify that evil where I can, and contribute the experience to a better nation.

That is the love I bear my country. That is why I am an American patriot.

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