What does it mean to be a patriot?
That word has been politicized as much as a COVID19 mask to protect others from a lethal disease, as much as “public health” or “parental leave” or “climate change” or “gun rights” or now, the perversion of the term “critical race theory” which chillingly mimics 1930s Nazi propaganda.
Apparently “brave” doesn’t cover “risking” the discomfort of getting the COVID-19 vaccination, even if it protects family, community and country.
January 6 insurrectionists chanted “1776” but carried Confederate flags. 1776 was a commitment to the formation of the United States of America, replacing rule by a faraway monarchy with rule by the governed; the Confederacy was a revolt intended to cleave the nation, less than a century old, into two based on a notion that some were not entitled to the same “inalienable rights” of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness, but were chattel, not human beings.
Trump wanted to imprison or shoot anyone who desecrated monuments to Confederate generals, installed well after the Civil War to assert White Supremacy, claiming that these protesters for justice were not patriots, they were the rebels who should be deprived of their civil rights.
Who’s the rebel? Who’s the patriot?
The January 6 insurrection by Trumpers would have overturned the foundations of what it means to be the United States of America – a democracy in which free and fair elections decide our elected representatives and those who lose accept that.
This was the first time in American history that there was not a peaceful transition of presidential power. The Trumpers are still talking about a violent overthrow of the Biden Administration, a la Myanmar.
The Trumpers have commandeered the label “patriot” to justify illegal, violent, criminal activity, while providing cover for a corrupt dictator-wannabe who would replace government by the people with a fascist dictatorship (while keeping himself and his criminal associates out of jail and raking in the dollars from his cultists).
President Joe Biden has applied the term “patriot” differently: someone who wears a mask and socially distances in order to protect the community, society and the nation.
He has declared this the “Summer of Independence” – from the coronavirus pandemic, sounding much like the fictional president in the “Independence Day” movie, when global citizens were called upon to defend themselves from an alien invasion.
The coronavirus pandemic is much the same as an alien invasion, but unlike other existential threats that have united the nation – Pearl Harbor, 9/11 – contemporary existential threats such as the pandemic and climate change have eluded such potency to unite in common cause.
But I wonder what will happen when these rebels who continue to use the Big Lie as an excuse to threaten violence and pass sweeping voter suppression laws, gerrymander districts, and set into place the ability of Republicans (if in power) to literally discount election results they don’t like, what happens when they, in fact, overturn elections so they are no longer “free and fair”.
That is likely in 2022, so Republicans retake the House and Senate and effectively cancel the rest of Biden’s presidency.
Now imagine it’s 2024. Biden has expanded his popular vote lead over Trump (or his MAGA successor) to 10 million votes from 2020’s 7 million.
But because of voter suppression, intimidation, partisan rejection of mail-in ballots, purging of voter rolls and rejection of provisional ballots, and Republican legislatures choosing their own electors regardless of votes, the Trumper manages to eke out wins in Arizona, Pennsylvania and Georgia by a dozen votes each – let’s say 36 votes to Biden’s 10 million – to retake the White House. (“It’s not the voting that’s democracy; it’s the counting,” British playwright Tom Stoppard wrote in “Jumpers”.)
Will Democrats sit back and accept the election as “free and fair” or even “democratic”? Will they sit back and watch a “peaceful transition of power”? Or take to the streets like Belarus and do what they can to undermine the illegitimate administration? Who are the patriots in this scenario?
The Lincoln Project tweeted, “Protecting democracy doesn’t call for political courage – it calls for patriotism.”
So many quotes about “patriotism” have to do with a willingness to fight and die – and used as much by the insurrectionists who would overthrow liberty and democracy in favor of a fascist dictatorship as by those who would protect democracy.
“The patriot’s blood is the seed of Freedom’s tree,” wrote 19th century Presbyterian minister Thomas Campbell.
“No matter that patriotism is too often the refuge of scoundrels. Dissent, rebellion, and all-around hell-raising remain the true duty of patriots,” stated “veteran muckraker” Barbara Ehrenreich
This one is particularly popular with Trumpers: “Liberty is never unalienable; it must be redeemed regularly with the blood of patriots or it always vanishes.
Of all the so-called natural human rights that have ever been invented, liberty is least likely to be cheap and is never free of cost,” wrote Robert A. Heinlein in “Starship Troopers,” upset because the U.S. was suspending nuclear tests.
But then there are other observations of the meaning of “patriotism”:
“Patriotism is often an arbitrary veneration of real estate above principles,” wrote George Jean Nathan.
“One of the great attractions of patriotism – it fulfills our worst wishes. In the person of our nation we are able, vicariously, to bully and cheat. Bully and cheat, what’s more, with a feeling that we are profoundly virtuous,” said author Aldous Huxley.
And this: “A patriot is not someone who condones the conduct of our country whatever it does. It is someone who fights every day for the ideals of the country, whatever it takes.” ― Kamala Harris, “The Truths We Hold: An American Journey.”
President Barack Obama sums up best the spirit of July 4th: “We, the People, recognize that we have responsibilities as well as rights; that our destinies are bound together; that a freedom which only asks what’s in it for me, a freedom without a commitment to others, a freedom without love or charity or duty or patriotism, is unworthy of our founding ideals, and those who died in their defense.”
On this July 4th, this is my declaration of what it means to be patriotic: pay your taxes, serve on jury duty, vote, protest for civil rights, equality, justice and to defend American ideals and work for the betterment of society.
“A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works,” said journalist Bill Vaughan.