SALINA, 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.