Hyper-Patriotism vs. The Truth

I love America. I believe that it is a great nation. And I am proud to live here. By most definitions, that makes me patriotic. However, there is a form of hyper-patriotism that goes far beyond this. Hyper-patriotism requires more than viewing the United States as a great country. It demands that people believe that the United States has always been a great country and that any of our nation’s flaws are minor–unless, of course, you are referring to flaws, real or imagined, that only emerged in recent years. For instance, saying that the country was great until President Obama was elected is generally considered acceptable according to the hyper-patrotic view. I was reminded of this dangerous, false vision of America by the presence of Dinesh D’Souza’s new tome, America: Imagine a World Without Her, in Barnes and Noble. In this book, D’Souza does not simply argue that America is a great country. He argues that the United States did not steal land from Native Americans tribes and Mexico, that African Americans today are better off because of slavery, that abolitionists were wrong to try and force a hostile majority to end slavery, and that Jim Crow, while bad, was intended to protect blacks. Coming from Dinesh D’Souza, of course, this isn’t much of a surprise. It has been obvious for years that bigotry is D’Souza’s bread and butter. It is interesting to note, however, that none of the claims he makes in his book are necessary in order to argue that America is a great country. I argue that the United States was not a great country originally. Rather, it took the work of reformers, from Wendell Phillips, to Ida B. Wells, to Bayard Rustin, as well as fair minded statesmen and stateswomen from Charles Sumner, to Hubert Humphrey, to Bella Abzug, to make this country great. I also believe that, thanks to the work of such people, America has made tremendous progress and deserves to be called a great country, even though it did not deserve such a title one hundred or two hundred years ago. That said, we still have a great deal of work to do. For example, LGBT Americans still do not have equal rights, bigotry is still a major problem, and Native Americans are still subjected to terrible conditions on reservations. These are not minor flaws. These are huge ones. So while our nation is great, we have a responsibility to make it even better. However, D’Souza and other people with similar views (former Arkansas state legislator, Jon Hubbard, who suggested that slavery was “a blessing in disguise” because it brought blacks to “the greatest nation ever established upon the face of the Earth,” comes to mind) believe that the version of patriotism that people like me subscribe to is woefully inefficient. So instead, they argue that America has always been great and that its past atrocities were minor mistakes that generally worked out well in the long run. That way, in addition to not properly acknowledging the suffering of those who have been wronged by the United States, they can also attack anyone who seems to be going against the vision of the Founding Fathers. Or, rather, their idea of the vision of the Founding Fathers. (James Madison opposing military chaplains or Thomas Paine advocating entitlement programs is ignored.) This narrative insults those who have been denied fair treatment due to traits like race or sexual orientation, but some people embrace it because it gives them, as Van Wyck Brooks would say, a “usable past” with which to promote their views. And I should mention that not all the people who embrace a rose-colored narrative about America’s past in order to promote their views are conservatives. Two years ago, a clip from a show called The Newsroom, created by liberal Democrat Aaron Sorkin, went viral. The clip involved a character ranting about how America used to be the best country in the world but now no longer is and how Millennials were the worst generation ever. Of course, the rant was obviously a crock. Why would a liberal believe that the generation with the highest level of support of equal rights for gays is the worst generation ever? Why on Earth would anyone seriously believe that America was better back when sodomy laws were still in effect, women were denied the right to vote, people were put into camps solely for being Japanese, Native American children had their braids forcibly chopped off by teachers as a means of “assimilation,” and African Americans were forced to drink out of separate fountains? Yet somehow, many liberals praised this speech, though others eviscerated it, such as Noah Barron in the brilliant essay “Were We Ever Great?” The best way to instill patriotism is to look at all the progress our country has made, not to create absurd myths about the country’s past.

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