04 July 2010

Fourth of July Confessions of a Cynical Patriot

A friend recently accused me of being unpatriotic. This is my response to him:

I’ve come to realize that one can be patriotic and not be nationalistic… love your country without draping yourself in the flag and chanting “we’re number one” all the time.

I think it’s ok that an inspired futbol team from tiny Ghana kicked our ass in the World Cup… Clearly, it means more to them than it does to us. Let the Canadians have hockey. We don’t need to be #1 in everything (nor do we need to host the Olympics again). Maybe that makes me unpatriotic.

But did anybody really like the guy in high school who always got the girl and made straight A’s and made the winning shot at the buzzer? A little humility is a good thing.

In the wake of the terrorist attack on 9/11/2001, exposed and vulnerable, the world responded to us with compassion and support, which our renegade cowboy president at the time squandered with his arrogance and misplaced retaliation… so, we stopped eating French fries. How American.

Sometimes I think the rest of the world must sit back and chuckle at us. Comparatively, we’re just a young, fledgling country. As far as nations go, we’re an adolescent. Full of bravado... ego-centric... with our delusions of invincibility.

Dynasties rise and fall. Laws of gravity apply. More mature nations understand this better than we do. If I happen to think we’ve begun our slide, does that make me unpatriotic?

I’ve come to realize that I love my country the same way I love my great-grandmother who died before I was born… more as a matter of principle. But not passionately like a new lover or unconditionally like I love my children. Some people do.

I love my country. But I’m not infatuated with her.

My father was a sailor in World War II and two of my older brothers were drafted into the army during the Vietnam War. I know that their patriotism is different from mine in ways that I could never possibly understand. They might say that I live a cushy life and take freedom for granted. Perhaps that is true.

I love my country but I think it is flawed in many ways. Its past isn’t as glorious as revisionist text book writers would have us believe… From the near extinction of the natives to the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow to the needless occupation of Iraq today…

All "systems" seem broken (economic, justice, regulatory, welfare, housing, health care, education...).

Our brand of capitalism has seen its better day. Greed and gluttony and corruption caused its downfall. I still believe that free-market is preferable to socialism (or fill in the blank with whatever ism you prefer) but Goldman Sachs and the like are doing their part to close the gap.

Statesmanship has given way to ridiculousness; partisanship rules the day. Politicians are petty and self-serving and the electorate is apathetic and uninformed.

Maybe the gap between the haves and the have-nots is too great to bridge and never the twain shall meet and maybe we really do care more about cheap gas than we do Planet Earth and maybe there will never again be a time in which civility and bi-partisanship have a place in political discourse and maybe, just maybe, our founding fathers' little experiment has run its course.

Truth be told, this is the extent of my loyalty to the USA: when I no longer believe this is the best place to live and to raise my children, I’m out of here… Can one be patriotic and an ex-pat-in-waiting at the same time?

First and foremost, I am a citizen of the world. The ultimate freedom to me is to be unconfined by unfettered allegiances and invented borders.

By the way, I also think Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” is just god-awful. It’s trite and contrived and most any high school sophomore could come up with better lyrics. There I said it. Maybe that makes me unpatriotic.

Eighteen months after Barrack Obama was sworn into office, I’m beginning to question whether real change can happen. Progressives desperately wanted change and thought it would happen when we elected one of us. Maybe that was unrealistic. We’re a disillusioned and fatigued lot. Maybe that’s what this rambling on is really all about.

Whether it’s a series of natural ones or careless man-made ones, seems like our government really only has time for managing crises. If Obama isn’t the answer, maybe our problems are just too intractable and overwhelming to solve.

If my “Yes We Can” has turned into “I Just Don’t Know if We Can,” does that make me unpatriotic?

I just wanted, expected better from us. We have the potential for greatness, but, in my humble opinion, have fallen way short....

So, this evening as the NC Symphony strikes up the Star Spangled Banner before the fireworks illuminate the summer sky, I'll stand and place my right hand over my heart and sing along... "oh say can you see...." because these are the rituals that accompany this holiday and I'll try my best to feel proud to be an American where at least I know I'm free because I guess that's what it means to be patriotic.

But, it won't be without a little cynicism. And sadness.