Exploring patriotism in 2014
© by Barbara Anderson

The Salem News
Thursday, July 3, 2014


Patriotism: love of one’s country.
— Dictionary definition

This seemed like a good week to think about patriotism, though I have to admit I’ve lived through many Independence Days without feeling a need to think about it.

Maybe it was last month’s vacation in western Pennsylvania, where my own patriotism grew with the prevailing attitudes: the patriotic holidays, with flags flying from most (it seems in memory) front porches or stoops, bicycle spokes decorated with red, white and blue crepe paper, and the understanding that one places one’s hand over one’s heart when the flag passes by during the parade.

We said the Pledge of Allegiance every school morning before classes began, were told stories about George Washington and the cherry tree, Honest Abe walking miles to return change to a customer who overpaid at his store. We learned to sing not just the national anthem, but “America the Beautiful” and “God Bless America.”

So if someone asked me if I consider myself patriotic, I’d have said yes, at any time in my life. Is this true of most Americans today? I started with my grandchildren, who often help me with columns: “Do you consider yourself patriotic?”

They were packing for a camping trip, so the conversation was necessarily short, but I learned something interesting: my grandson said he didn’t really consider himself patriotic because he isn’t into politics. Not surprising that at age 13 he isn’t into politics, but it did startle me to learn that he sees the word “patriotic” as one that is used in political debate, an attack on someone whose politics are different.

He’s right, isn’t he: and this is something new. In some American circles, being considered “patriotic” would be politically incorrect, in the category of “Tea Party”, always going on about the Constitution and the national debt. As a Tea Partier myself, I think some of us might consider those not concerned about these things unpatriotic: why would anyone who loved America not support the U.S. Constitution and fiscal responsibility?

So I rephrased the question for my grandson, asking if he loves his country. He said sure, it’s better than most of the countries in the world. I didn’t ask, but I suspect his love may be contingent on the presence of national mountains on which he can be free to ski; he looks forward to a chance to love Switzerland too.

So I moved on to my granddaughter, who responded that yes, she’s patriotic, because she reads National Geographic and sees those countries that aren’t as good as ours, even with its flaws.

If we don’t overthink the question, they’re right: it was comparisons that drove the early American settlers, and many generations of immigrants, to leave other nations to come here. Perhaps the stories, songs and symbolism aren’t necessary, but just a collection of nostalgia that sustains a preferable image of America without answering the real question, why do we love it?

The phrase “American exceptionalism” is a relatively new one to me: I first noticed it used by Mitt Romney during his presidential campaign. It takes us from simple comparison with other countries, many lovely in their own ways, to imagining a world that without the existence of the United States would have been overrun by Nazi Germans or Japanese imperialists in the middle of the last century. This seems so obvious that it seems odd that anyone objects to the phrase, as President Obama has with a casually irrelevant observance that other countries think they are exceptional too.

I asked my questions of other people I ran into over the weekend. One senior Republican leader traced his own patriotism to watching the film “Yankee Doodle Dandy” as a child, and declares himself still patriotic. He didn’t agree with another friend who said he loves the country but not the government; my Republican friend says they are the same thing. Another opinion I heard: “I believe in what our country was, not what it is.”

I thought about all this and wonder: unless we really do just love the real estate, America the Beautiful with its mountains for skiing as well as other natural resources that feed our independent economy, the country is the people who choose its leaders, who drive its destiny.

Barack Obama didn’t seem to grow up with the stories, songs and symbolism I grew up with. He’s doing everything he’s decided is in his power to change America for the worse. If I don’t like his vision of America, does that make me unpatriotic?

As I was writing this, trying to figure out if I’m still patriotic, I heard about “America” a new film by Dinesh D’Sousa, opening this week, which imagines a world in which America never existed. My first thought is that our continent would be just a larger Canada, with Mexico extended into the southwest and west. Have the Germans and Japanese divided it between them? The land itself is still there, the “beautiful for spacious skies, the amber waves of grain, the purple mountain majesties”: do we love it even without its freedom?

Time out now to remember America as it was just seven years ago, and hang the flag on the porch. Wishing you a Happy Independence Day.

The comments made and opinions expressed in her columns are those of Barbara Anderson
and do not necessarily reflect those of Citizens for Limited Taxation.

Barbara Anderson is executive director of Citizens for Limited Taxation. Her column appears weekly in the Salem News and other Eagle-Tribune newspapers.

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