Patriotism and Politics in the United States
A Guest Post by Ralph Scharnau
As we celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, it seems appropriate to reflect on the founding of the American Republic. The patriots of the Revolutionary War era proclaimed the birth of a new nation in the Declaration of Independence. They embraced the principles of liberty, equality, and democracy.
The U.S. Declaration of Independence attributes certain rights to all human beings, but immediately adds that securing these rights (life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness) requires the establishment of governments. These governments may assume a variety of forms, all legitimate as long as they defend rights and rest on the consent of the governed.
Defining patriotism, remains an ambiguous task. The term clearly signifies love and devotion to country. Yet, the continuing existence of racism, sexism, and phobias about LGBTQ people can turn love to hatred.
Patriotism does not mean fidelity to the United States as my country right or wrong no matter what. Unquestioning faith in bad leadership is not patriotism. We carry two passports: one stamped the United States of America, and the other a world citizen.
Today, there are clear political differences between Democrats and Republicans as we approach the 2020 elections. The United States is a bitterly and starkly divided nation. In this atmosphere, the two major parties often accuse their adversaries of disloyalty or even treason.
Democrats and Republicans also differ on what it means to be patriotic. Democrats are more likely to discuss patriotism as caring about people across communities both locally and internationally. Republicans today take an “America first” position that loyalty to an erratic president provides the litmus test for patriotism.
In a June, 2019 national poll on patriotism, 75 percent of respondents 65 and older said that patriotism was very important while only 21 percent of those under age 30 felt the same way. African American and Hispanic respondents placed a priority on helping people as individuals rather than on pride and love of country
Patriotism rests on what a society holds most sacred. The politics of dishonesty, fear, greed, and hatred stand in sharp contrast with honesty, goodness, sacrifice, and fairness. No political party has an absolute lock on these standards. In the upcoming elections, voters will decide which of the current parties and/or candidates embody the values that would best chart the nation’s course over the next four years.
Mr. Trump’s slogan “America First” defines patriotism not by whom it includes but by whom it excludes. Although Trump often vilifies the media that disagree with him on issues, a free press remains vital to holding our political leaders responsible to the public.
Trump identifies with the aggressive, chauvinistic strain of nationalism that places national power at the center of American policies at home and abroad. This contrasts with civic nationalists. They put loyalty to America values first. These include free speech, free press, and free institutions as well as measures to promote the common good for all people.
More and more people today see growing inequality as a problem. We have a political order where government services the wealthy and powerful and takes from everyone else. The vast inequalities of wealth weaken a society’s sense of mutual concern.
The promise of America or the American Dream is that no is left out. A truly egalitarian democratic society is one where the rewards of growth are shared with everyone, not just the elites. In a democracy, then, there should be universal rights to economic, social, cultural, religious, and environmental justice for everyone.
Ralph Scharnau taught U. S. history at the University of Dubuque and at Northeast Iowa Community College, Peosta. A peace and justice activist, Ralph writes monthly op-ed columns for the Dubuque Telegraph Herald.