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Celebrating Patriotism this Independence Day

By Alan Jilka
Opinion | June 30, 2011

old-glory-forever.gifSALINA, Kan. - The Fourth of July and its accompanying outburst of patriotism are fast approaching. Unfortunately, the word "patriotic" is quickly becoming bastardized in popular culture. We have tea partiers and Sarah Palin to thank.

Look back at coverage of tea party rallies this past spring. Inevitably you'll see a quote from a speaker or an attendee about how great it is to be with so many "patriotic" Americans. By implication, if you're not one of those who buy into the bogus notion that most of our country's debt and other problems were caused by Barack Obama, you're not considered patriotic. That, of course, is pure nonsense.

These self-described patriots are suspicious of Obama in part because he lived four of his grade school years in Indonesia. Having been corrupted by exposure to another culture he possibly doesn't share "our values." Indonesia is the world's fourth most populated nation and has the world's largest Muslim population. It can't hurt to know a little about it.

Tea partiers' strange notion of patriotism leads to a common criticism of Obama - that he does not believe in American Exceptionalism. Newt Gingrich has recently published a book on the subject entitled A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters. In Newt's typical professorial fashion he has a hard time providing a succinct definition of what he's talking about. So I'll try to summarize for him. The concept appears to refer to a belief that the United States is a nation specially chosen by God to be the world's preeminent power, and to export its superior culture to the rest of the world.

To subscribe to Newt's thesis one has to whitewash a lot of American history - topics ranging from slavery, the Mexican-American War, Manifest Destiny, to our treatment of American Indians, the civil rights movement, etc. He also rehashes the same tired fears of socialism used by opponents of social security, medicare, and more recently, healthcare reform. And if you don't concur with his argument your patriotism is in question.

I'll never forget when my best friend from Mexico visited the United States for the first time. I proudly showed him around Kansas and did my best over five days to expose him to the "American Way of Life." When I asked him on the last day for his thoughts on my country he surprised me with the following comment. "America has such a sense of cultural arrogance. They take it for granted that their way is always the best way."

It turns out that the United States is not the only country with a belief in its special place in the eyes of God. Brazilians have a popular saying that says, "God is Brazilian." They have also been saying for decades that the 21st Century will be the Brazilian century. China would no doubt argue that point.

But there's no reason to lose sight of all that we have to be proud of in our country. We've evolved from a government of, by and for white land-owning males to a country where the son of an African exchange student and a white teenager can, through hard work and merit, rise to become President.

Maybe that's the biggest lesson we should celebrate this Fourth of July. We live in a dynamic country with the capacity for adaptation that gives us confidence that we can meet the historic challenges we face and preserve the American dream for those who come after us.

And we do that by embracing other cultures, not by acting superior to them. Founding fathers like Adams and Jefferson had lived extensively in Europe and brought the best ideas from abroad back over the ocean as they participated in the founding of a new political system. And the beauty of the system they devised has been its adaptability to challenges they couldn't have imagined back in the eighteenth century.


6 Comments

You think Americans are bad, try being around the British, French, Germans, Italians... well just about every European country. Japanese people, well Nippon means something like "people of the sun" and they think they are above everyone.

Well my point is every country presents only its good side. Frankly while the US had some dark history, I will say we have learned more and tried to make amends with the past than other countries. Try to get Germans to discuss 1939-1945. Try to get Australians to discuss how they wiped out their aborigines or the fact so many of their ancestors were prisoners. If you talk to a Scandinavian about the Vikings you'd get the idea they were these rascal band of fun scoundrels (like "Hagar the Horrible"). Believe it or not even the American Indians were not this quaint group of earth loving hippies they've been painted as.

Sadly liberals have focused so much on the bad they have turned their back on the 4th and celebrating the good. This has allowed conservatives and republicans to take over the holiday. See the recent article out of Harvard called "Harvard: July 4th Parades Are Right-Wing"
http://www.usnews.com/news/blogs/washington-whispers/2011/06/30/harvard-july-4th-parades-are-right-wing

Maybe celebrating pride in America (baseball, hot dogs, apple pie, Mom) isnt so bad?


Brad--My husband and I are liberals and we celebrate the 4th of July. Our flag is flying on our front porch and if my grandkids were here, we'd be out buying fireworks for tomorrow night. I don't get people who say such things about liberals. Most liberals I know love the 4th and love to celebrate it.

I also love being an American. I love my freedom as an American. I love that my dad taught me to drive when I was 13 and I still drive, safely, by the way. I love that as a woman I have rights that used to be the sole provenance of man. I love that I live in a country in which we have a Black president who is smart and tries to work with everybody to accomplish good things for this country. I love that I am safe when I walk around my ethnically mixed neighborhood.

However, part of being an American is recognizing that Americans are imperfect and we don't live in a perfect country. If people in other countries are arrogant about their countries, that's their problem, not mine. When I visited Norway, the woman who hosted our group wasn't shy about discussing the problems of Norwegians, so at least one person in one foreign country keeps a sense of balance about her country. When I was in France and Italy, I found people to be friendly, outgoing, and curious about America.

Native Americans had tribal cultures, languages, and customs that were as sophisticated as those of the Europeans who settled America. I don't know anyone who thinks Native Americans were a "quaint group of earth-loving hippies." If they loved the earth, it was because the earth was the source of everything they needed to stay alive. That's more than I can say about contemporary Americans, many of whom seemed removed from the natural world.

Brad, I've seen evidence in your posts that you think things through. Sometimes, though, you paint everything with a broad brush and call it true. I suppose we all do to an extent, but that's not a good way to deal with reality. You might start by finding out what liberals really do on the 4th of July instead of making assumptions based on your biases.


Liberal? Conservative? Patriot? We have a real problem with labeling!

Can we say someone is patriotic when they ignore the good of their country if it helps their bottom line on profit? Will a patriot destroy environment if their is personal profit in doing so? Will a patriot take advantage of their fellow citizens?

The political debate over state's rights and federal power has been around since before the Constitution was drafted. Do you think one or the other side of this issue is, or has been, more patriotic than the other?

Because I think government has a civic responsibility in social welfare, I'm labeled as a liberal. Because I am a firm supporter of "Separation of Church and State", I'm labeled 'Liberal'. I believe sexual issues are personal responsibility for consenting adults, therefor I’m labeled ‘Liberal’. Does that mean I'm either patriotic or unpatriotic?

Can an atheist be patriotic? Does being Christian have anything to do with patriotism?

Loving one’s country is not expressed the same by all people. There are somethings in the system that some folks don’t like. Are they unpatriotic if they voice their dissatisfaction? Does being Republican or Democrat have anything to do with patriotism?

I disagreed with the invasion of Iraq. Did that mean I was not supportive of our military personnel? I didn’t agree with most of the Bush Administration’s economic or foreign policy. Did that make me unpatriotic?

I love my community and country living. I disagree with how the Township Board maintains our road. In fear of being labeled unpatriotic, do I have no freedom to criticize or oppose their policies? I don’t always like what the County Commissioners fund or de-fund. I’m not supportive of the majorities choice for State offices, does that make me un-patriotic?

Patriotism is a worn out expression that has been used to belittle minority opinions for too long. Patriotism is not a license for the minority to badger the majority. Patriotism cannot silence the freedom to agree or disagree with local, state or national government.

I love this great country for the freedom of individualism that is guaranteed by our Constitution. We have hot debate and bitter disagreement over National policy as it addresses foreign policy, economic policy, religious freedom, sexual issues, etc. Agreeing with me has nothing to do with whether you consider yourself patriotic, or not.


Right on, Ken! When I read Brad's post, I thought back to the Vietnam War era and that old "Love it or leave it" bumper sticker. I loved my country then as I still do, but I thought we had no business going to war in Vietnam, as we had no business going to war in Iraq or Afghanistan. That doesn't make me less of a patriot.

Our flag is still out there on the front porch. My husband had to remind our conservative neighbor across the street to put his flag out. He had forgotten it was Independence Day. Hmmm.


Diane, What I was trying to get at is what I read from the article. I'll quote a portion:

"The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century. Survey evidence also confirms that Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats. According to this interpretation, there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans," write Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor David Yanagizawa-Drott and Bocconi University Assistant Professor Andreas Madestam."

Well that sort of makes sense. A 4th of July celebration is no place to hold an antiwar rally.

Maybe this is an issue democrats need to look at? If conservatives are seen as more patriotic then find out why.


Ken, One's opponents always love to throw out labels when you oppose them even if they are an exageration. Your examples are true and it goes on the other side also. Good example - if a person is against Obama they always label them a racist. It's darn hard to be a moderate when the dialogue is dominated by the extremists on both sides.


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