What is Patriotism?
An important question that is seldom asked and perhaps only ever answered in the negative, as in what isn’t Patriotism. To many it appears that the very hint of questioning the integrity of our leaders, the accepted narrative of our nations history, the fundamental Zeitgeist of a people moving forward in this story we call the passage of time is a fundamentally unpatriotic act; the word treason can also be thrown around. Also, there are those who may believe that there cannot exist any solidarity with the American Soldier apart from the full embrace of the mission which they have been sent on. Are these assumptions true, not in the existential sense of which they most certainly often are, but in the theoretical sense, in the sense that liberty and a free society could count as offspring? Do they resonate with what it means to be American, to be a free folk committed to taking in the lost, the orphaned, the oppressed and the castaways of a world lost in the maelstrom of globalization, economic tyranny and naked preemptive military aggression? I admit, that’s a lot of questions and perhaps that is the point of all this, that the clear waters of our nations character have been so muddied with the F.U.D. of political ambition and corporate media that we as a land of free men can no longer recognize what is that we are not only free of but what that freedom gives us license to do and the duty that it imposes upon our conscience.
An obvious and readily accessible example of this confusion and apparent historical dis-associative disorder is what to do with the problem, and I concede it is a problem of one form or another, of illegal immigration. There are some who would simply dismiss the illegal as an illiterate, criminal miscreant whose sole purpose is to steal, defame and destroy all that is American. Others would counter with the claim that we, as in the American government, simply stole the land from, in this case Mexicans, and they are simply coming home. This is quaint and in part somewhat true, but merely serves to obfuscates what I believe to be the real issues, namely, why are they coming in such large numbers and what are they seeking.
The myth of manifest destiny is alive and well in middle America and its effects are being felt in the casual racism whereby the term “illegal alien” has had the labels of illiteracy, criminality, debasers of morals and the family and the general idea of social terrorism attached to it. Now, any person endowed with a modicum of common sense, after a moments consideration, should realize that none of those accusations and appellations make any sense. But instead, we have often become a nation of casual racists and cultural bigots.
In the pursuit of the rectification of the perceived assault on the American Dream, few, it seems, stop to analyze the situation with any sort of detachment. How many are aware that much of the developed world considers Mexico a failed state or that the disparity between the rich and the poor is on a scale that we simply don’t possess the imagery or historical depth to appreciate. That the American Southwest is suffering capital flight of upwards of twenty billion dollars that goes directly to Mexico, with approximately seventy percent going directly to the purchase of food, rent and other essential needs of survival that could otherwise be spent in the local communities.
This should be a telling fact that the situation in Mexico is not normal, that the problem is greater than simple illegal immigration. The majority are coming to this land to survive, to escape a country that is so corrupt that law enforcement is considered an entrepreneurial venture and the military has to be enlisted to simply maintain order. And we didn’t help things at all with NAFTA which helped to suppress both American and Mexican wages, caused the complete annihilation of the Mexican farming community and the exploitation of a native workforce without the protections of labor laws or powerful unions. And lets not forget the pollution and deforestation caused by the Mexican farmers attempt to compete with the American Agribusiness.
Now, I won’t seek to justify the the legality of the massive incursion of foreign nationals who disregarded proper channels and procedure. We call them illegal aliens for a reason. But we must remember that they do have certain constitutional rights, illustrated by Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886), Wong Wing v. U.S. (1896) and their children are guaranteed the right to an education according to the Supreme Court decision in Plyler v. Doe (1982)
To accept the company line that we don’t bear any sort of responsibility for the economic and social situation in Mexico at best is simple ignorance and at worst the sanctioning of socio-economic genocide. We cannot afford to be deaf to the cries of the disenfranchised, but we don’t seem to be able to see past our own navel. Money and comfort are more important then looking to our neighbors and seeking to help when we see a need. We say we believe that humankind has been endowed with inherent rights to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness but we practically are seen to actually be committed to the belief that it only applies to Americans or more broadly, to the Western World. But for our Declaration of Independence to mean more than the cost of the paper it was written on, to be more then the intellectual justification for rebellion, then we must expand our vision of these endowments. The answer is not to summarily eject some eleven million people or to quarantine them like enemy combatants, nor to turn our border into an armed camp. If we really want to be the chief of this global village that we seem to think that we are, then we must do it with compassion and human charity, not denigrating the dignity, humanity and value of those who don’t look and act and talk and think like us.
It seems that the American public has a sort of dipolar approach to its place in the global community. On the one hand it seems entirely comfortable with the policy that we are empowered to meddle in the affairs of other nations, to the tune of about forty U.S. military bases on foreign soil with a footprint that covers most of the developed world. And this is all accepted, but I think unknowingly, by the lifelong and subtle inculcation of American Exceptionalism. But on the other hand will fight tooth and nail when it comes to sharing the inheritance of our birth with others when it happens to be in our own backyard. We are unwilling to accept that we are in any way responsible for anything around the world that does not ring in harmony with the image we have of ourselves as the disseminators of democracy and the harbingers of doom to the “Evil Doers”.
Patriotism, as I see it, is an empty thing without dissent. If we consent to the theory that Patriotism is the meek acceptance of the public and foreign policies of our government and subscribe to the edict that we should actively support those policies or risk losing our right to be “Great Americans” then we shall lose any right to self-governance we may think that we possess. The inherent tensions between the democratizing force of a vocal public and the sobering trudge of a Constitutional Republic will dissipate and Plutocracy will finally prevail. Patriotic public discourse in these United States of America should one of dissonance and reasoned passion.
So what do I think a Patriot is? Well, a Patriot is someone who looks at the mass of the unwanted and asks how they can help rather than steer them to the nearest exit. A Patriot is someone who sees a group of people so desperately seeking to find liberty and asks how they can help. A Patriot is someone who sees beyond his own self interest and extends his heart to the world. We must be Patriots of the American Dream of Liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness and the Right to Life. That might not be the traditional notion of what a Patriot is, but this is a new world that requires a new people, who, while not forgetting national borders or American interests, must not take for granted their birth right by casting the beggar from our door and the orphaned out into the night. That’s the sort of Patriot, the sort of American, that I aspire to be.