The running weather here in Lititz, PA has been perfect! Usually, by the end of June, we are well into days where the three Hs – hazy, hot, and humid – dominate. This year there is a clear, azure sky most days and cool temperatures linger until at least mid-morning. I ran through town today and noticed the thousands of flags which have been planted and hung. Our little town hosts a 4th of July celebration that draws big crowds. There are games, music, and food in the park, a queen is crowned, and the day ends in a spectacular fireworks display. Americana at its finest!
I have been studiously avoiding writing a column with political overtones, and I am not going to write one here, but maybe it was the flags, or maybe just the time of year, but I have been thinking about patriotism lately.
When I think of patriotism, two people come to mind. Both were in the service – one in World War II and one in Afghanistan. The first is my father. Dad was drafted into the army shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor. He and my mother had just gotten married. My father never talked much about his experience as a soldier to me, but I know that he was in the Signal Corps, first in Northern Africa with a British unit, then in Italy during the invasion of Salerno.
My father, from a dirt-poor Quaker farm family, did not want to fight Germans or anyone else but felt it was his duty. At the height of the Viet Nam war, I asked him if he would have volunteered had he not been drafted. He was silent for a long time, and I thought he was not going to answer me, but eventually, he simply said “No.”
The other person is a friend of my son. He came from a fairly well-to-do family and was widely traveled before graduating from high school. His father is a businessman and his mother a college professor. He was also a student of mine in school.
This young man, despite coming from a family of considerable means, wanted to pay for his own college expenses. Fiercely independent, he did not want to accept any assistance from his parents. He entered an ROTC program understanding the eight-year service commitment after college graduation. He was deployed to Afghanistan twice during those eight years.
The reason that “patriotism” reminds me of these two men is that, in my mind, they embody American ideals. When I think “American“, I think of someone strong, independent, generous, capable and brave. My ideal American has a little twinkle of mischief in his/her eye along with the intent to always do the right thing. They are never bullies, never cowardly, and always engaged. When I think of Americans, I think of individuals not opposed to hardships for a good cause, of people willing to protect and rescue someone in need. I think of someone with whom you always know where you stand. Americans collectively wear their hearts on their sleeves. When I think of an American, I think of a patriot, someone fiercely loyal to their country.
So. What happened to us? We have devolved from patriotism to tribalism, and tribalism is not patriotic. We have somehow signed up for a team – left vs. right, conservative vs. liberal, Republican vs. Democrat. We identify with that team far more than we do with our country and the ideals it stands for. We prefer to associate with people on our team. We read and view only sources that will reinforce our own narrow opinions, not broaden them.
No matter which side we are on, our side is always right; the other side is always wrong. We stereotype and ridicule people who don’t agree with us. Social media has turned up the volume on our entrenched arguments. We “like”, “share“, and “re-post” slogans, pictures, and memes, without checking their veracity. I have un-friended some of the most vituperous from my accounts, but cannot escape the barrage of invective from both sides.
As long as we are attacking each other, we are not attacking the very real problems that afflict this country.
We have put the ideals of our tribe ahead of our American ideals. As long as I can remember I have accepted the concept of American exceptionalism. Our principles and freedom are supposed to be a shining example to the rest of the world. We are the wealthiest nation on earth, and with that wealth, comes responsibility. We willingly help individuals and nations who are weaker, hungrier, poorer than we are.
Sure America has made mistakes. Slavery and denying women the right to vote come to mind as two enormous errors we have made. Americans own their mistakes and try to make amends.
Insisting on loyalty to our tribe rather than our country has tarnished the noble idealism of America. We must find a way to compromise on issues, to listen to views different from our own. We celebrate individualism, yet regurgitate the words of our team “captains” without considering their meaning. We must above all learn to think for ourselves. We must somehow find a way to shift our loyalty once again to our country, rather than our team. We must reclaim those American ideals of bravery, generosity, intrepidness, and compassion.
Katherine Lee Bates said it far better than I ever could:
I am linking up with Shank You Very Much for her Dream Team link up. I am linking up with Eclectic Evelyn for her Words on Wednesday link up. I am linking with Random-osity for Little Things Thursdays link up.