Be a patriot, not a parrot

They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king
– Bob Dylan

Injecting patriotism into politics is nothing new. But what we saw under the Trump administration was a dangerous and poisonous variant of political patriotism that continues to threaten our democracy today.

Trump weaponized patriotism — not to marshal and unite Americans for the greater good of the country, but rather to pit Americans against one another. Trump understood that a divided America was his best hope of holding onto power — and a false and cheap patriotism was a way to achieve that.

Trump’s patriotism smacks of fascism. Its mob-like and fervor-based. It’s an America-first / white-is-right / bend-the-knee-and-kiss-the-ring form of patriotism. It’s anger-based and nationalistic. It feeds, grows, and lives on grievances, bigotry, and religious intolerance.

And what mattered most with Trump patriotism, was how loudly you proclaimed it, or how prominently you displayed it. Volume, visibility and violence were the primary elements in measuring one’s commitment to Trump’s vision for America. From MAGA hats, to Trump banners, to beating capitol police officers unconscious with American flags, Trump patriotism was loud, obnoxious, violent, and devoid of American values and human empathy. It drove a wedge between Americans and divided the country into two groups – those who shared Trumps warped view of American democracy, and everyone else.

Lately, I’ve been seeing a plethora of puffed-chested patriotic posts on social media from Trump supporters. Images of the American flag, videos of the Pledge of Allegiance, pictures of the Statue of Liberty, in what seems to be a reflexive response to the continued coverage and news stories about the January 6th insurrection.

As we learn more about that day, we now know with certainty that the violence behind the insurrection, and the ongoing lies about a stolen election, are inherently tied to Trump and the Q-wing of the Republican party. And so, many traditional republicans find themselves caught in this fuck-tangle of lies and un-patriotic behavior from the leader of their party.

What to do when faced with this sticky wicket?

Well, what we’re seeing from many Republicans is an almost obligatory need to vomit out a bunch of flag and pledge posts on social media. Maybe they think they can “patriot” their way out the conundrum in which they find themselves.

“Look at me, I love my country!!!”

I’ve no doubt that many of these folks are decent-minded Americans who actually do love their country and are now trying to reconcile their support for a man who cheered and praised the January 6th insurrection against America.

I almost feel sorry for them. Almost.

By the way, I’m not suggesting that everyone who says the pledge is un-patriotic  (though publicizing it on social media seems a bit, I don’t know . . .  .  over-the-top) . What I am saying is that reciting the pledge in-and-of-itself is just a gesture, and has nothing to do with being or not being patriotic.

I can teach a parrot to recite the pledge, that doesn’t make the Parrot a Bald Eagle.

And in the case of Trump supporters, it doesn’t matter how often or how loudly you proclaim your patriotism, it doesn’t change the fact that you voted for an autocratic white nationalist who defied, and continues to defy, our democratic principles.

We’ve drifted so far away from the true meaning of patriotism, it’s difficult to see how we get back on track (though voting the biggest fake patriot out of office, was a good first step.) 

Fake Political Patriots and False Prophets

There’s nothing like a group-pledge to form a cheap and easy kinship with your fellow Americans. Tie-in a political message like “Make America Great Again” and voila, you’ve got yourself a vociferous Army that you can feed for years with cheap and empty platitudes of patriotism.

Under the previous Administration, it was considered patriotic to shout racial epithets and condemn African Americans (and others) for taking a knee in peaceful protest against systemic racism.

Under the previous administration, it was considered patriotic to support the government when it dispersed peaceful protesters with chemical agents.

Under the previous administration, it was considered patriotic to separate children from their parents and put them in cages.

Over a four-year span of a cult-of-personality presidency, many Americans came to believe the act of supporting a president, even when he obstructed justice and abused the power of his office, was also patriotic.

America desperately needs to get back to a quiet, purposeful, and dignified patriotism. A patriotism that that unifies citizens around the democratic principles on which this country was founded, rather than a politically-fueled patriotism that divides us.

In order to do so, we must disentangle patriotism from politics.

If the four-years of the Trump presidency taught us anything, its that we need to view political patriotism with a healthy does of skepticism and suspicion. Deploying cheap, simplistic, and empty patriotism for self-gain, is not patriotism — it’s a form of fascism.

We need to continue pushing in the right direction

America is not perfect, hence the phrase to form a more perfect Union – the movement towards that objective a more perfect and more complete union, is what makes America great. It’s the journey towards self-improvement (and all the work that entails) that will continue to define America.

America is at a crossroads. To go in the right direction, we don’t need empty patriotic gestures, we need a steady, consistent, and united push towards that more perfect union.

Flag waving and saying the pledge won’t get us there – actions in support of democratic principles will.

So, be a patriot, not a parrot.

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