It’s time for a revolution in liberal/progressive thinking.
For most of my life – I’m 65 – the term “patriot” was owned by various flavors of right-wing groups. Some of them, like the John Birch Society, as extreme as anything around today.
To be a patriot you had to damn near worship flag and country, unthinkingly, and always be on guard to attack the evil forces of socialism, communism, or any kind of -ism that wasn’t “truly American”. Because, after all, we were the Shining City on the Hill. There was no place to go but down.
That view of America is deeply troubling. And opens the door to things like the January 6th terrorist attack on our seat of government. It also tends to so repel liberals and progressives they downplay or reject patriotism. That opens them up to being condemned as unpatriotic, turning what should be a healthy political debate – about what America stands for – into a one-sided shouting match.
You can be a free-thinking, liberty-loving patriot striving to make our nation a better place, who believes in the words set forth in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution…while never forgetting we, and our forebears, have committed horrible sins against our fellows and our ideals.
The Slaveocracy (aka the Confederate States of America) was evil, both by today’s standards and those of the time during which it arose. It was founded on, and committed to, the idea that some people aren’t really human and can be treated as animals. Those who embraced or supported slavery were Americans. Like it or not, it will always be part of our heritage. Nor is it the only example of our failing to live up to what we claim to be.
But America isn’t just the mistakes we’ve made and the evil we’ve created or condoned, or even the guilt some of us, correctly, feel about those things. While we’ve committed atrocities, we’ve also done great, noble, and self-less things, too. What we are as a people stems from our commitment to try to work towards the good of all.
The Founders weren’t foolish enough to claim they’d created a perfect system of governance. All they did was start us on the road towards that “more perfect Union” they believed might someday come to pass. If we continually learned from our mistakes and remained committed to getting all of us across the finish line.
So what should being patriotic mean in such a society? Simply put, patriotism reflects a nation’s brand. It reminds everyone, both residents and those from other lands, what they can expect from dealing with the nation. Brands are promises between the brand owner and current and potential customers. They’re inherently forward-looking. Brand owners must work constantly to fulfill the promise for the brand to have any value.
Our pursuit of that more perfect union, our promise to work towards the good of all, is America’s brand, and has been since our noble experiment was launched centuries ago. Churchill famously said you can always count on the Americans to do the right thing…after they’ve tried everything else. We often fail, but we keep trying. Even when we make terrible mistakes our continued striving maintains our brand’s value. Sadly, it’s been badly tarnished recently.
It’s time the liberal, progressive elements of our community took it back from those who have co-opted it, and corrupted it, for so long. We need to make clear patriotism is our commitment to fulfill America’s promise, not the blind claim we’ve already achieved it and are beyond reproach.
The work won’t require you to become a mindless tool of some Fearless Leader. Indeed, while mindless followers are useful tools for Fearless Leaders such demagogues fear free-thinking individuals. Their greatest foes, and our greatest heroes, are free people who cherish their community and are willing to fight for it. On behalf of all its members, not just themselves or the privileged few.
Nor does it mean you need to run for office or spend your whole life as an activist. Although having served nearly twenty years as a local elected official I strongly encourage you to consider doing so. You’ll learn a lot and become a better citizen to boot.
But if all you do is remember to stand up for our ideals, to challenge, when you can, those who wrongly equate patriotism with mindless obedience to the status quo you’ll be making a major contribution. Because you’ll be helping take back the brand, getting us back on track towards the future we promised each other.