Protesting the protestor

Extending gloved hands skyward in racial protest, U.S. athletes Tommie Smith, center, and John Carlos stare downward during the playing of the Star Spangled Banner after Smith received the gold and Carlos the bronze for the 200 meter run at the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City on Oct. 16, 1968. Australian silver medalist Peter Norman is at left. (AP Photo)

Flags and songs aren’t people. They don’t have feelings or emotions.

The American flag and the national anthem are not capable of “feeling” respect or disrespect, any more than a dishcloth or AC DC’s “Highway to Hell.”

So, when some Americans say in anger, “He disrespected the flag” or “She disrespected the anthem!” what they’re actually saying is, “They disrespected my feelings for the flag and my feelings for my country.” I don’t deny the authenticity of their anger or their right to express it.

What I do have a problem with is their presumption. The presumption that everyone’s feelings for America should be the same – or the same as theirs.

The American experience is not uniform (and never has been). For example, as a white American male, I haven’t felt the sting of systemic racism. But just because I haven’t felt it doesn’t mean it’s not there; it simply means I didn’t experience it personally. So systemic racism did not shape my American experience, the way it shaped George Floyd’s family or the experience of millions of other African Americans.

For me to understand something that I haven’t experienced, I need to listen and employ empathy. And if there’s one thing in short supply in America, it’s empathy.

Many Americans don’t want to hear about someone else’s experience, especially if it does not mirror their own. So, when they see an Olympic athlete protest, they immediately dismiss the protester as ungrateful, selfish, and un-American. They never pause to consider that individual’s experience – they don’t want to know why the person is protesting – they simply point a finger and condemn or compare the protesting athlete to one who did not protest.

But when Americans see an aggrieved citizen of a communist country stand up for their rights, we (almost uniformly) celebrate their protest as brave and heroic. Demonstrating that even though empathy is in short supply, there’s an abundance of hypocrisy in the USA.

America was not born perfect. In the past, women and blacks could not vote, gay people could not marry, and civil rights were a pipe dream. And so, Americans (including Olympic athletes) fought, protested, and marched against these injustices.

And even though we stand head-and-shoulders above most other countries when it comes to freedom and opportunity, we are not yet that “perfect union” – that’s always going to be a goal. It’s always going to be America’s journey. And along the road to that more perfect union, Americans (and American athletes) protest or march or fight to shed light on things like racism, sexism, and voter suppression.

That’s been our history, and it has served us well.

In a Democracy, Criticism is Love

A lot of people mistake criticism of America by citizens as hate towards their country. I would argue the opposite is true – that criticism is love when it comes to democracy.

American democracy is an ongoing experiment, one that remains in pursuit of a more perfect union. And so, America consistently tries to live up to the ideals on which she was founded. And when the government that represents us does not live up to those ideals or starts to stray away from democratic principles, we must correct America’s course, through constructive criticism, through dissent and protest, and through the vote.

In America, the citizens are not static witnesses to democracy – we don’t sit idly by when our representatives behave in ways that contradict American ideals. We don’t sit on our hands or keep our mouths shut when we see systemic racism and an unfair justice system. We don’t just go along with a president who inspires and praises a violent insurrection against our country. Instead, we speak up loudly and condemn lies and the deplorable actions that spring from those lies, and we do so because we love America, not because we hate America.

As citizens, we are not parented by our government. We are not obliged to remain silent in deference to government officials when they go afoul of democratic principles and American ideals.

In a democracy, the citizens are the parents or the controlling authority, and when you see your child behaving poorly, you don’t ignore the behavior because you love them. Instead, you criticize the behavior, demand that they change the behavior. . . . because you love them.

Somehow, our understanding of the relationship between the government and its citizens has gotten totally twisted. So many of us view our President or government as infallible parental figures that should be obeyed and respected at all times. We think that speaking out against either means you don’t love or respect America.

In a democracy, criticism is love. In a democracy, criticism is our responsibility, especially when we see America straying from the principles on which she was founded.

Fake Patriotism – Blech!

Republicans all over Facebook are trying to hijack patriotism with fake-ass outrage at an Olympic athlete protesting. These are the same people who turned a blind-eye to a lying ex-president who inspired and praised an insurrection against the United States of America.

“Look at me supporting the flag wavers, the anthem standers, the pledge sayers – I’m a true blue American!!”

Blech!

Posts of proud and talented athletes draped in the stars and stripes, don’t make you “patriotic.”

Posts showing disdain and disgust towards the American athlete who protested, don’t make you a “true American.”

And all the patriotic posts in the world won’t erase the un-American act of supporting a President and a political party that tried to overturn a free and fair election and destroy our democracy. That dark, dank, stank envelops you. It sticks to you like white on rice, and you can’t “patriotic-post” your way out of it.

You want to be a true blue American? Speak out forcefully against the big lie, protest voting laws that make it harder for your fellow citizens to vote, and show your outrage at the refusal to investigate a politically-motivated insurrection against your country.

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.

Broke-Merica

America

We’re good on paper

But don’t deliver the goods

We swallowed the hype

Got lost in the woods

Don’t love our neighbors

Mistrust them instead

They’re either a little too blue

or a little too red

So, we must disagree with

Whatever they said

 “They don’t really look

American to me”

We can’t seem to get

beyond what we see

Be it color or religion or ethnicity

We get lost in the hateful

Shit that we read

And we share all the garbage

That shows up on our feed

 and the news

that we choose

isn’t news at all

Just a place to trawl and brawl

Then scrawl on our wall

We set up our camps

are told to pick sides

It widens the gaps and deepens divides

We no longer talk with each other

We talk at each other

We’re in a constant state of agitate

arguing is now our default setting

So easily triggered and never forgetting

We don’t live and let live

or live to forgive

We’re an angry flock of bots

Always bratty, catty, and taking cheap shots

Always posting and boasting

and political roasting

 We’re walking-talking bumper stickers

We’re cheap and shallow politickers  

Our house is burning

 Our ship is sinking

we’ve got no solutions

just meme-based thinking

We’re a promise broken

A useless token

A hatred spoken

Dangerous sheep in MAGA hats

“I know you don’t like Trump, but….”

I hear this from people all the time — people I thought I knew.

I’ve come to realize we don’t really “know” anyone, except our family and closest friends.

I’m done assuming that the people I “know” and associate with on social media are decent-minded — as if “decent-mindedness” was an inherent human trait. Its not. Decency is taught, learned, and practiced — it is fed, nurtured, and supported by those closest to us, but only if those people themselves have been taught or shown what it means to be “decent”.

What I’ve learned over the last 4 years, in an eye-opening-perspective-changing-punch-in-the-face, is that a fuck-load of my “friends”, are not decent-minded at all.

In spite of the never-ending shit-show of the last four years, many of them are unwilling to call a liar a liar, a criminal a criminal, a traitor a traitor, and a demagogue a demagogue – even when the President (through actions and words) demonstrates he is all those things.  

I wrongly assumed that if I just pointed out the obvious, people with a modicum of intelligence and a smidgen of integrity would be able to connect the dots — especially when those dots reside on a fairly straight line — that the President of the United States is a habitual liar, a criminal, a traitor, a narcissistic demagogue and, in the words of his own sister, has “no principles and cannot be trusted“.

The president’s desperate attempt to cling to power, which is inextricably tied to his fear of criminal prosecution, come at the expense of our national security, the safety of our troops, the health of our citizens, our national unity, and the principals of western democracy on which our country was built.

I wrongly assumed that the continuous four-year flow of misinformation and lies that fall from the president’s mouth, like garbage from the back of a sanitation vehicle, would be evidence enough to convince all Americans that the President of the United States is a threat to the country.

Instead, what’ I’ve learned over the last 4-years is that none of the President’s behavior matters to the millions of sheep in MAGA hats, who are so full of fear and drunk on conspiracy theories, that they follow this President like bewitched cultists, bludgeoning our democracy with their bibles and strangling our freedoms with the American flag.

I left Facebook because every time I logged in, I was reminded that America suffers from a malignancy of dimwitted nationalists and hateful bigots — and unfortunately, my Friends-list was littered with them.

America will collapse under another 4 years of this President, unless decent-minded citizens show up en masse on November 3rd 2020.