Watching Senator Thompson at the Republican National Convention, I am confused by his definition of patriotism. It appears self-satisfying, narcissistic, with little maturity or examination – almost a crush. Many people, like Cindy McCain, have always been proud of the United States. I must say, they are woefully ignorant of American history, or callously self-interested only in the ups, and forgetful of the downs we have traveled through as a nation and as individuals. And so, like the great patriot Michelle Obama, I feel the need to elucidate where feelings like this come from.
In reading the Declaration of Independence, and the Constitution of the United States, and Jefferson’s Declaration of Religious Freedoms, there is great promise, great potential, in the nation that we hold so dear. That “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights” is a testament to the manner in which we should conduct ourselves. However, as lofty as this rhetoric is, we have many times fallen short of those ideals.
To point these out, or be cognizant of them isn’t “to make apologies to the critics of the United States,” as Senator Fred Thompson would opine; it is also not “to hate America,” as Sean Hannity is fond of stating. It is to be an adult and realize that no human creation, from the wristwatch to the democratic republic we live in is perfect or free from flaws. These pseudo-conservatives argue that pointing out the mistakes of our country is to somehow appreciate it less, or to be embarrassed and ashamed of some of the actions taken makes one less patriotic. My question is, though, if they have always been proud of their country, were they proud:
- When FEMA left thousands of people in New Orleans helpless and hopeless in the wake of Hurricane Katrina?
- When the United States invaded a sovereign nation based on bad intelligence, and failed to bring to justice the terrorists who attacked the United States on September 11, 2001?
- When the Supreme Court of the United States, according to Justice Antonin Scalia, stepped in to give the presidential election to George W. Bush in 2000, effectively obfuscating the will of the republic?
- When the United States supported the military coup of the democratically elected President of Chile?
- When the United States armed Osama Bin Laden in the late 1980s to fight the Soviet Union? Armed Saddam Hussein and Iraq to fight Iran? Armed Mohmar Qaddafi? Manuel Noriega? Augusto Pinochet?
- When the United States dropped the only atomic bombs ever used in warfare on Japan after they sought an end to the fighting in World War II?
- When the United States traded arms for hostages during the Iran-Contra scandal?
- Gave birth to the Ku Klux Klan?
- Failed to engage in World War II until we were attacked, allowing Nazi Germany to wreck havoc on the world stage and slaughter millions of people?
- Failed to engage the government of Sudan, sitting idly by again while genocide is being committed?
The United States of America has much to be proud of. Our institutions reflect ideals that all nations should aspire to – freedom for all, participation in government . . . life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But we are an imperfect nation, with a history of genocide (Native Americans), slavery, racism, sexism, discrimination and calculated oppressions of peoples whose interests don’t coincide with our own. If Cindy McCain, Fred Thompson, Sean Hannity and the others who espouse blind patriotism and “my country, right or wrong,” are proud also of the missteps in American history, then that is also a reflection of character.
An intervention for substance abusers is a painful, penetrating act that acknowledges the flaws in a person’s character, and the damages done by those flaws, usually by the person or persons most intimately involved. Fred Thompson, Cindy McCain, Joe Lieberman, Sarah Palin, Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh, Karl Rove, President Bush and anyone else who actually questions wearing a flag pin, or the symbol on the tail of Senator Obama’s campaign plane, or opines over the fact that as a candidate, he is more popular with foreign heads of state and populations than the sitting president are all missing the point.
When you love someone, or something, you want it to be the best it can be. You don’t cover up its blemishes, hide its mistakes, pretend that it is perfect to make it worthy of your affection and loyalty. You work to help it become perfect; you acknowledge its flaws and love it despite them. For the first time in your adult life, you “are really proud” of your country.
Patriotism doesn’t mean “my country, right or wrong.”
It means “when we’re right, keep it right. When we’re wrong, make it right.” That is what makes me proud to be an American. I’m not always proud of what my country does, but I am proud of what we are striving to be.