Consider this: The word “patriotism” has never been well-defined. Or perhaps it has never been defined well.
The dictionary says patriotism is “the quality of being patriotic.” Well, that’s about as helpful as a pet pig in a manure wallow. It continues, “Vigorous support for one’s country.”
Another definition: “devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country.”
The word goes back to the 17th century and came to us from the French who in turn got it from the Greeks (who else) in the form of the Greek word “patrios” – of one’s father.
I bet you didn’t see that one coming. Why does everything always go back to the father figure?
The problem with these definitions is that they are useless. What the hell is “devoted love of one’s country?” OK. Well, it’s “love,” and it’s for one’s country.” There. See. All cleared up.
But is it “love” like, “I love my pet lizard. Isn’t he cute?” Or is it “love” like “there’s nothing I love better than a good orgasm on a lazy Sunday morning?” Or is it more like “I love my mom; she’s the best.”
And by the way, what do we mean when we say “one’s country?” Do we mean the name of the country? To be a “patriotic person,” do I have to have devoted love for a noun? Must I defend a part of speech?
I would guess it is supposed to mean something more than that, but what exactly? Does it mean everything about a country? The majority of things about a country? Some things about the country? And what things, anyway. Perhaps it means some idealistic idea of what we think the country represents. But to whom?
Without too much trouble we have wandered away from definitions and into the realm of the culture we live in. You cannot define patriotism without defining the culture that spawns that definition.
Take this idea of “country” for example, this America we live in. Which America is it?
Is it the America I saw growing up in the 50’s? You know, the America that is the best nation on earth with the best schools and the best health care and the best government? That America? The one where we hid under our desks regularly in drills designed to save us from nuclear annihilation?
Maybe the America of the 60’s where we fought a war in Asia that no one supported except the people who made money off of it, and the national guard shot students in cold blood on a college campus because they protested that war. That America?
Is it the America some of you see when you take your winter trip to Florida or Arizona and play golf every day when you aren’t in yoga classes until it gets warm enough back up north to return?
Or is it the America Jewish folks see when swastikas are painted on the synagogue?
Or maybe the America members of the Muslim faith see when their mosque is set on fire in the “heartland” of the country.
Perhaps it is the America black parents see when they have to sit down with their sons and counsel them on how to behave if they are ever stopped by the police so they will be less likely to be harmed.
Is it the America of the first nation Americans who were slaughtered and are still having their land taken from them?
Which America? Which America should I love, support vigorously, and defend?
Because there isn’t ONE America any longer, if there ever was.
And just how is it that I am to “vigorously support” whatever I think America is? Do I share Facebook posts that say “Share if you think America is the greatest country on earth?” Or was that a Russian troll post? Do I share pictures of the American flag? Do I go to football games so that I can be seen standing during the playing of the national anthem. Do I put a few oversized flags on my pickup beside the confederate flag and drive up and down Main Street? Do I show my support by watching Sean Hannity because he’s such a patriotic guy?
The problem is that every one of these things is a useless as the definition. Like the culture that has spawned them, they are shallow, trivial, and increasingly without meaning.
Our president has singled out protestors at football events who peacefully kneel during the playing of the national anthem as unpatriotic. He claims they are showing disrespect for the flag of America. And by America, he means HIS America.
The problem is that he has no idea what patriotism is about. No, he is talking about something else altogether. He is talking about “nationalism,” and they are not the same thing.
Patriotism is hard. Patriotism is like good citizenship. It requires knowledge of history and government. It requires that we be able to take all those different Americas and find the common ground that allows us to support, defend, and love a country that does things we don’t agree with, that causes us anguish and pain at times, and that causes some of those around us to be treated in ways we cannot long tolerate.
Patriotism requires that we understand that flag waving isn’t supporting our country; it is promoting ourselves.
Patriotism means defending the country by finding the best people to lead it and voting them into office, supporting them once they are there if they do a good job, or removing them promptly if they do not.
Patriotism means not ducking out of Jury duty even if it is an inconvenience.
Patriotism requires that we have a deeper understanding of what defense of country is than just military might. It requires that we acknowledge that sometimes diplomacy is a better defense than bombs and guns.
Patriotism requires that we have the ability to understand that the real enemies are often not those off shore, but those within our midst who would destroy every idea of America but their own.
Patriotism requires that we realize that sometimes the enemy is ourselves; that our country is being threatened by things we do ourselves, either knowingly or unknowingly.
Nationalism, on the other hand, is easy. You only have to know one thing: your country is better than anyone else’s country. Period. And you don’t have to worry about which version of America is better, either. It’s your version that’s better. And you don’t have to have a reason for believing that. You were born here; therefore everything you believe about your country makes it the best country in the world.
When everything is that simple, standing for the national anthem in a football stadium becomes incredibly important. It’s all about respect! You either love America or you hate it. There is no middle ground. There are no nuances. History is unimportant.
And if part of what makes your America great is that it was founded by and still led by white people, and that white people are the best people and all other people are inferior, you will be infuriated by black people kneeling on the sidelines while you are showing everyone just how much you love your country by standing during the national anthem. How dare they take away from your moment? Let them exercise their first amendment rights somewhere else!
That’s nationalism. That’s white nationalism. That’s what our president is promoting under the guise of patriotism. He may be doing it as a distraction. He may be doing it to arouse his base. He may be doing it for any number of other crazy reasons that only he knows (or doesn’t), but he is promoting white nationalism (again) and it’s dangerous and unnecessary.
When his surrogates tell you that it isn’t about race at all, it’s about respect; it’s about honoring the military and the fallen soldiers who died protecting the flag, they don’t have a clue. I’d say they are lying, but some of them may actually believe what they are saying because they don’t know the difference between white nationalism and patriotism any better than our president.
It is absolutely about race. It has always been about race.
When a white cop shoots an unarmed black man in the street for no apparent reason, that’s about race.
When a white cop who says, “I’m going to kill this motherf*cker” and then pulls the trigger is acquitted of murder, that’s about race.
When a black football player takes to his knee to protest these things, that’s also about race.
And when the President of the United States says that any “son of a bitch” who takes a knee during the national anthem should be fired, you can be damn sure that’s about race. It is actually somewhat humorous, because kneeling was once considered the ultimate show of respect. No one stood to show respect for the king. They could lose their heads for that.
It’s not about respect for the flag. It’s not about dead soldiers. It is a white nationalist’s response to a black man seeking justice in a white world. At a football game of all places.
Soldiers don’t die to protect a flag. Soldiers die to protect people. They die to protect the rights of the people as given to them in the Constitution. Many died in a war fought so that document could even be written. They died to protect their country, even before it existed.
Soldiers don’t die to protect a song. And standing when someone plays a song is not a sign that you respect your country unless you also do it when no one is looking. It says “Hey! Look at me! I’m a patriot.” It’s just like praying in public. Jesus told you not to, but you do it anyway because that’s how people know how religious you are.
If you want to show respect for something, show some respect the Constitution.
You don’t have to stand for that, though. How will anyone know how patriotic you are?
Your Humble Servant,
Roger A. Shipley, The Willowbrook Curmudgeon
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