July 3, 2010

My distrust of July 4th

I love this country. I really do. I have spent the better part of my adult life studying the complexity that is American history--and feel that I have just a bit of understanding. So much more to learn. Out of that, I have a greater appreciation for the brilliance of the Constitution and the Republican (not, of course, to be confused with the GOP) approach to governing. Those ideas of res publica and concern for the public good and an informed citizenry still amaze me.

Likewise I am always in wonder that such a flawed government built by flawed men who refused to grant equality to any one of color or any woman. Yet, in the course of human events, that same government, and that same founding document has allowed for some search for equality and justice.

But I deeply distrust flag waving. It is the easiest and least legitimate form of patriotism. Samuel Johnson, I believe, is the one who said that "patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel." So easy to proclaim that you love America and that God favors your view of America. Harder to extend freedom to those you dislike. Harder still to trust the system rather than stoop to torture or war out of fear.

I will celebrate our country tomorrow. I will remember the bravery it took for men to sign that document knowing it meant their death if they lost. I will remember their thought to the excesses of power and of passion. I will remember their failings. And I will remember that in the name of this country, we have done much good. We have freed and rescued; we have supported and defended; and we have stopped horrors. But in that same name, we have exploited and abused; abetted tyrants and dictators; invaded and tortured.

That flag means a lot to me too. But it should mean more than a t-shirt, bumper sticker, or mattress sale. And it should mean that we actually do hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (and women) are created equal. Even when they live in another country.

1 comment:

Smitty said...

Even when they live in another country.

Or when they are gay. Or of color. Or atheist. Or Muslim. Or poor. Or homeless.

My favorite patriotic quote of all time is the one stamped in metal on the base of the Statue of Liberty:

"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she

' With silent lips.Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

The whole poem is beautiful; find it here. The Mother of Exiles, as the poem names her. I wish people here would remember this about us.

And now on to the great American traditions of grilling animal carcass and blowing stuff up.