By Ken Trainor
July 4th is a grand day to celebrate patriotism, however you define it. Here's how I define it.
A patriot is not:
- A missile of mass destruction.
- A piece of legislation (the Patriot Act) that violates our civil rights.
- A scoundrel hiding behind the flag (a high percentage of politicians).
- A politician spouting platitudes about "freedom" while stuffing his pockets with corporate campaign contributions.
- A spectator who routinely sings the National Anthem before a sporting event without giving a moment's thought to the words.
A patriot is:
- Someone like Martin Luther King Jr. who challenged his country to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed."
- Someone who cares enough to get upset when this country falls so embarrassingly short of its democratic ideals — as we did in the 2000 presidential election.
- Someone who won't say we're "number 1" until we're number 1 in quality-of-life categories (education, access to health care), not just military muscle.
- Someone who is increasingly concerned as the gulf in this country widens between rich and poor.
- Someone who loves the flag less than he or she loves what it symbolizes. And who hates it when phony patriots worship the stars and stripes then violate what they stand for.
- Someone like Thomas Paine described: "When it shall be said in any country in the world, 'My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want.' ... When these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government."
- Someone who realizes that the National Anthem ends in a question, and who thinks about that question every time he or she sings it. Someone who knows that the song's composer wasn't asking if the star-spangled banner yet waves. He was asking if in 2011 (and every other year), it still waves over the land of the free and the home of the brave.
If the answer is "no," a patriot is free and brave enough to say so.
When I go to a ballgame, as I did on Sunday, I resent being told to stand, take off my cap and sing, especially when I'm surrounded by people who seem to be there mostly to guzzle beer. I do not mind being invited to sing. I do mind being ordered to.
I define patriotism as respecting those who choose, for whatever reason, not to sing the National Anthem at a baseball game.
But singing the anthem, I'm told, is a rare opportunity to demonstrate our national unity and feel a shared sense of national pride with our fellow countrymen.
I understand the attraction of that dream of unity, but to me it feels hollow. It papers over our divisions and pretends we are unified, when we are actually deeply divided on what it means to be an American and how we believe we should be governed.
We will never be one country in agreement, and we need to forsake that false dream. We can only be one country in disagreement, in diversity of opinion. And that applies to choosing whether to sing the National Anthem as much as it applies to our rancorous elections.
Here's what Mark Twain, one of our most patriotic authors, had to say on the subject:
What the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views; that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist, it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn't; whereas the king could dictate the monarchist's patriotism for him — a decision which was final and must be accepted by the victim; that in my belief, I was the only person who was privileged to construct my patriotism for me.
Americans will always disagree. That's the nature of democracy. We can only be "united" in our respect for other Americans' divergent points of view, recognizing that we all share, down deep, a mutual concern for this country's best interests.
Currently, to say the least, we do not respect one another. We do not dialogue.
Dialogue is a patriotic act.
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