Their contempt is directed at citizens who deeply love their country, but who dare to admit that historically and now it is a combination of the good, the bad and the very, very ugly. That is, those of us who refuse to repeat the latest version my-country-right-or-wrong. Who disapprovingly admit that jingoistic, exclusionary, authoritarian, white supremacist patriotism is largely what helped make the United States “great” in the worst sense of the word. Who believe that dissent is the most important patriotic behavior. Who oppose the idolatrous mixing of militaristic nationalism with patriotism.
I can hear the hissing of those who, in the words of George Washington, practice “the false pretense of patriotism” and try to stifle dissent and fill the silence with propaganda at every opportunity. And even when patriotic critics deal with it by quietly protesting on the roads, they are told to shut up, stand up and salute. And apologize to your “betters” for their arrogance. In this way, pretending patriots do what they have done throughout American history: confuse dissent with disrespect, critics with renegades, patriotism with obedience.
Fortunately, 15 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, the bill was passed and its First Amendment enshrined freedom of speech and the press. Allowing us all to say what we want, when we want, in an irreverent voice, so far, usually. This amendment is one of the reasons I love my country and am a patriot.
I’ll admit that it can be difficult at times for someone whose Seminole ancestors were killed in three wars by soldiers who flew the stars and stripes, and who still has atonement and apology to make, especially when today’s Native Americans remain largely invisible except for stereotypes and remain romanticized, whitewashed in the past. Nevertheless, I call myself a patriot because patriots are rebels. It is no the cry of drawing the guillotine. It stems from the optimism that patriots can and must transform the United States, as it was repeatedly transformed in the past by dissidents who rejected slavery, the second-class status of women, the impotence of workers, the rigidity of the sexes, the reign of racism. It goes without saying that much remains to be done. Especially when the man who was kicked out of the Oval Office just 18 months ago declared that neo-Nazi protesters were good people and treated dictators so badly that he should have worn a body camera without a kill switch when traveling abroad.
Nothing, of course, offends the Right more, and seems more disrespectful and disloyal, than when we who are dissenters, our reproaches barely out of our lips, claim to be patriots. They become apoplectic when we say that it is not patriotism that we disrespect, but pretenders who have made a fetish out of it, twisted it and turned it into commodities.
These idolaters love idea dissent, its iconography, but they scoff at its reality. Those patriots must be bootleggers. In extreme cases, jackbootlickers. Proof, as if it was more necessary that even the very word “patriot” should be reclaimed from those who have hijacked it. They are no different than Jersey City Mayor Frank Haig, who said in January 1938:
“We hear about constitutional rights, freedom of speech and a free press. Every time I hear those words I say to myself, ‘That man is a Red, that man is a Communist.'” You never hear real American talk like that.
Chinese and Russian autocratic capitalism has taken its toll on the “red” of accusations, but even in our current era, the “real American” canard still carries weight.
Fourteen years ago, a senator and presidential candidate named Barack Obama gave a speech in Independence, Missouri, in which he said:
We can now count on our leaders and our government to stand up for our ideals, to stand up for what is right, and there are many times in our history when that has happened. But when our laws, our leaders, or our government do not live up to these ideals, the dissent of ordinary Americans can prove to be one of the truest expressions of patriotism.
If you hear echoes of the Declaration in these lines, you’re not alone. Music to the ears of those for whom it and the Constitution are a flawed but hopeful beginning, not the end, of American ideals.
Seventy years ago, George Orwell taught us how words are reshaped to lead the populace to accept interpretations that are often the opposite of their true meaning. In his book Notes on Nationalism written in May 1945, he said that patriotism is “devotion to a certain place and a certain way of life, which one considers the best in the world, but does not wish to impose on other people. ” However, nationalism is something else, he said, addressing the pretended patriots of that time and ours:
All nationalists have the capacity not to see similarities between similar sets of facts. … Actions are judged good or bad, not on merit, but on the basis of who does them, and there is almost no outrage—torture, hostage-taking, forced labor, mass deportations, imprisonment without trial. , forgery, murder, bombing civilians – which do not change their moral color when committed by “our” side. … Not only does the nationalist not condemn the atrocities committed by his side, but he has a remarkable ability not even to hear about them. … Nationalist thinking contains facts that are both true and false, known and unknown. A known fact may be so intolerable that it is generally pushed aside and prevented from entering into logical processes, or, on the other hand, it may enter into every calculation and yet never be recognized as a fact, even in the mind.
Patriots will stand up for what they love without hatred or any sense of superiority. But nationalism requires the belief that others are inferior, which makes it inherently aggressive, an enemy of peace, and therefore an enemy of patriotism. Nationalism defines everything in “us versus them” terms. US nationalism masquerading as patriotism has led to imperialist wars, the killing of indigenous peoples, the repeated suppression of dissent. In a time of global tension, nationalism masquerading as patriotism undermines people’s ability to assess the reality of threats, and counter when they have few of those threats.
Accepting the unconditional support that nationalists demand of us could never be an expression of love for one’s country, the basic definition of patriotism. Indeed, it would be extraordinary andpatriotic to do so. For who carelessly allows harm to the one he loves?
Fighting for a better country is what patriotic dissidents have been doing since the beginning of the United States. Opposing them and their high principles in each case were welcoming patriots, those who resented dissent, who believed and saw attempts to extend popular democracy to the poor, women, blacks, and other people of color. from him the right, which labeled opposition to expansionism and imperialist war as outright treason.
Despite the demonstrators engaging in naked aggression against abolitionists, suffragists, union workers, civil rights workers, LGNTQ activists and others, these dissidents made America a better place. They redone America. Today, many are hailed as icons. But in their own era they were vilified, attacked, and—often—killed for their audacity, for their belief that the ideals of the Declaration were no pretend. We owe them. We respect them best by imitating them. And at a time when more than half of the country’s population is being disenfranchised by a minority pretending to be the majority, pretending to be patriots while they screw up the Declaration and the Constitution, it’s more important than ever.