Thursday, September 8, 2011
A patriot, as defined by the dictionary, is someone who defends popular liberty and zealously safeguards his or her country’s welfare. Certain things come to mind: defending your nation, paying your taxes and making sacrifices for your fellow countrymen. But what’s striking a nerve today is the misuse of patriotism and the way people seem to define it.
Maybe Samuel Johnson, writing in 1774 in The Patriot, said it best: “…for a man may have the external appearance of a Patriot without the constituent qualities; as false coins have often luster, tho’ they want weight.”
I am dismayed to see a proliferation of empty symbolic gestures by our politicians being mistaken for acts of patriotism. Sticking a flag in your front lawn, wearing a stars and stripes bikini, toting a chainsaw, capping a moose with your rifle or igniting fireworks is not in and of itself “patriotic.” However, going against their better judgement, people have started accepting these emotional appeals as patriotic, when in fact these actions do nothing to defend liberty or our country’s welfare.
Feigned patriotic gestures such as these are used to cover true acts of selfishness and greed. What has been going on in Washington is really not patriotic at all. An oligarchic distribution of wealth has been achieved in the wake of the largest wealth gap this nation has ever seen, while the financiers and money makers grin all the way to the bank. People talk about a “recession” at a time when corporate profits are at record levels. If the rich create jobs, where have they gone with unemployment over 9 percent?
The patriotic values of our Founding Fathers in no way hinted at creating a country that maintains such a disproportionate distribution of wealth as we have, or a country where the only decent education left for children is in the hands of the private sector, or one where people will die at the doors of hospitals because they don’t have money to pay for an insurance plan.
What is patriotic is a willingness to give back to the country that has made success and wealth possible for those who live as modern-day Pharaohs instead of greedily hoarding it all for themselves. What is patriotic is to stop feeding Americans myths about how the rich are taxed too much already in a time when the wealth gap keeps getting wider and corporate gains are bigger than ever. What is patriotic is to stop using “socialism” as a four-letter word to kill programs designed to help people back on their feet who don’t even have any bootstraps of their own to pull themselves up by.
Common Americans have sacrificed so much already, and they keep giving. They give a bigger proportion of their paycheck in taxes than the rich, they fill the ranks of the military, and they work just as many hours for a significantly less substantial standard of living.
They have done all they can, but are still blamed for sucking the system dry. This inequity tirade has been heard and repeated before. What we are now calling for is a silencing of this distracting and insincere “patriotic” squawking. Are we electing politicians for their personalities or their competence? It’s time to move beyond a middle school-style popularity contest for picking our national and global leaders. The President is not a celebrity; this nation is not a reality show. If we are going to fix this country’s problems we need to start taking the political process more seriously. A true patriot has no need to flash credentials. Just look at what they’ve done for others. Look at what they’re really done for their country.
Former Weekly intern Neil Heckman is studying international environmental policy at the Monterey Institute of International Studies. He served as a specialist and artillery forward observer in the U.S. Army during the Iraq War, including a 14-month tour in Baghdad that started just after the invasion.