Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Why I Love My Country

Given recent events, it's weirdly prescient that I began writing this in August. I've been thinking about it for even longer since I got several comments in Eugene when I talked about buying a flag for the house: "Why would you do that?" I've been reminded of this again given the shame/pride voters have variously expressed about the Obama election. Some of the rhetoric about faith in America from both friends and the news has been ridiculous. This is my response.
My opinion of my country is formed by an historical perspective and not by recent events. I will never accept that one party or another can dictate or claim who or what is American; the idea of America is neither Liberal nor Conservative. I do not apologize for being an American and I am not embarrassed to fly the flag. I do not believe "patriot" is a dirty word. And I am certainly not a sunshine patriot.

But I also understand that many self-proclaimed "patriots" are utter morons. Like humans the world over, my countrymen can be jingoistic, shallow, selfish, self-righteous, fearful, impulsive, fear-mongering, materialistic, moralizing, short-sighted dumbasses. We abuse ourselves as much as we abuse each other. We declare our immunity to social responsibility by raising the shield of Rights. [Yes, very good, but I don't see where the Right to be a Dumbshit is spelled out anywhere. Is that an Amendment? Or does it actually rise the level of Commandment? Thou shalt be irresponsible, spoketh The Television; and Lo, dumbshittery did spread through the land.] Furthermore, my country, even if you squint hard through rose-colored lenses, has a checkered past: literally hundreds of years of slavery, the wholesale extermination of Indians, imperialistic wars with Mexico and Spain, rabid and frightening anti-communism, outright annexation of territory, naked greed and ignorant consumption, etc etc. To study America's history is to confront some very ugly truths about what our modern society is built upon.

So. Where does my patriotism spring from?

I believe in the genius of the Constitution and the authors' philosophical grasp of human nature: despite their own well-documented hypocrisies, they understood that concentrated power is guaranteed to be abused, be it in ensconced in a bureaucracy, a court, or even in the voting public itself. They understood that official blindness to our differences is necessary both principally and practically.

I believe in the enduring appeal of America to people the world over. We continue to draw the best and brightest despite waxes and wanes in immigration sentiment. We continue to attract people who want to see dividends to their hard work combined with functioning accountability and justice.

I believe our country is more than a collection of people and capitalism--it was founded on a set of ideas to encompass the economic, social, and religious diversity of the European settlers. It is telling that our bloodiest conflict remains the unsurpassed slaughter of the Civil War. We readily massacred our own countrymen largely over fundamental ideas about America--not over religious or ethnic differences, colonial repression, class disorder, imperial greed, or any other of the reasons Europeans were fighting for in the equivalent time frame.

While I do not believe that any boy or girl can grow up to be President (e.g., it's gonna be a long time before a lesbian atheist with Mormon roots goes anywhere politically), I can easily argue that it is far more likely here than in any other equivalent country. The historical trend is toward greater freedom and acceptance, not less. Consider the position of women 90 years ago, or blacks 50 years ago, or gays 20 years ago. We are evolutionary.

I believe we may be damaged by different congresses, administrations, Supreme Courts, and public panics, but like a well-built boat, America has the tendency to recover from rollovers. And I think we stack up relatively well: for every George W. Bush our voters produce, we can make favorable comparisons to Silvio Berlusconi, Vladimir Putin, Imelda Marcos, Jorg Haider, Hugo Chavez, or (my personal favorite) Jean-Marie Le Pen. Our serial inability to place ourselves and our country in a broader global/human continuum belies our ignorance. A closer comparison to others should temper both the knee-jerk jingoism of self-declared patriots and the impulsive damnations of our home-grown critics.

Last, if the day comes that I ever stop believing in my country, my countrymen, the Constitution, and the strength of civil society, I will not sit here and loudly declare that we're going to hell in a handbasket while I hypocritically continue to enjoy America's benefits. I will leave. There is no point in implicitly supporting a dead-end country with my continued presence.

And I challenge any of the modern naysayers on both the left and the right, those who readily dismiss the government and mock the American Dream, who perpetually make sweeping declarations that the country is going to hell, who cyclically declare every four to eight years that 60% of their countrymen are sub-human fools: when are you leaving? Do you have the integrity to support your fashionably moralizing declarations with action, or are your diatribes another great gust in whichever direction the winds of popular discourse are blowing? Are you so flaky that a mere changing of administration causes you to lose or regain faith in America?
Obviously this whole thing is a provocation, and it's meant to be. It isn't a denial of our current faults or sins of the past; it's an affirmation of what I feel are our under-recognized strengths. And even if you think I'm completely out to the lunch and dead wrong about everything above, consider this: Obama could not have won had he not attracted voters who had twice--twice!!--voted for George W. Bush. And how many of those voters went for Clinton twice before?


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