"I love my country more than you do."
It’s not a new tactic, but it’s an easy one to implement.
Wrap yourself in a flag and point an accusatory finger outward toward those who disagree with your definition of patriotism. Those who are easily swayed by this cheap and meaningless call to action will rally to your side. You’ll gain instant credibility.
It’s a dangerous game of one-upmanship.
Similarly, a claim to be speaking in God’s name, or better yet, as in Glenn Beck’s case, a claim to having been spoken to by The Almighty will cause your stature to rise among those true believers who have somehow forgotten the lessons of following false prophets.
The farce that was this weekend’s Restoring Honor rally on the National Mall in Washington found its impetus in the melding of these two motivating dynamics.
If we move away from simplistic slogans and overreaching characterizations, we discover that true patriotism is difficult to define. The definition must include aspects of intent, action, and conscience. Loyal opposition should be held in as high regard as concurrence. The blemishes of a nation should be as visible to all as are its accomplishments. In each case, one extreme should not obscure the other.
As difficult as it is to define patriotism, I can readily recognize what it is not.
Patriotism is not something that is worn on a lapel, adhered to a bumper, shouted from a rooftop, or used as a weapon. It’s not a contest where the winners get their country back and the losers are exiled to who knows where.
Patriotism is not linked to a belief in a deity. As much as we would all love to feel safe in the knowledge that a greater power is on our side, the reality is that no one can make that assertion. If a divinity exists, I seriously doubt that his or her blessings are sold on EBay to the highest bidder. Being the biggest and the strongest is not a guarantee of righteousness, so believing that strength trumps truth is foolishness.
Patriotism is not stagnant. There’s more to it than harkening back to the feats of our founders and reveling in their glow. Patriotism must be nurtured in a way that makes love of country relevant today. Our actions and those of our representatives must not only be consistent with the aspirations of our founders, but must also reflect a genuine concern for the well being of our fellow citizens. It is utterly inconsistent to profess absolute love of country while ignoring the needs of much of its population.
The options presented to our citizens should never be: “Love it or leave it,” or “My country right or wrong.” If those had been the prevailing thoughts at critical times in our history, America would never have made much of the progress that has occurred during our evolution.
Patriotism should drive us toward progress and not destruction. Patriotism should propel American citizens to speak out against things that are wrong like warrantless wiretapping, preemption, torture, or an illicit war.
Patriotism should never lead us on a path toward anger and distrust of our fellow citizens, or blind acceptance of our country’s policies.