For far too long for those of us on the Left, patriotism has been defined by the Right. Patriotism is militarism. It's a belief that America is a God-blessed country unique in world history. Patriotism is the belief that the country has never done wrong; even slavery has its advocates on the Right. It's the belief that America is an innocent abroad, bringing the light of freedom selflessly to benighted corners of the world, rather than acting in political self-interest. Patriotism is the belief that the fact that we do something makes it right. Patriotism is a fetishistic belief in the American myth of individualism.
This patriotism is comforting to many of our fellow citizens, because it removes from them the obligation to think critically about this country's history. If the current times are troubled, it's because we've strayed from traditional American values and traditional patriotism. The ideal hasn't failed us; we've failed the ideal; or, rather, the complainers, the shirkers, the layabouts, the liberals, the Others have failed the ideal, because they never believed in it, either through ignorance or malice.
Those of us on the Left have to redefine American patriotism.
Are we living up to the ideal vision of America when tens of millions of our citizens go without healthcare due to cost, condemning them to a life of illness and possibly an untimely death?
Are we living up to the ideal vision of America when millions of our children are poor, relegated to the outskirts of society, trapped in underfunded schools and violent neighborhoods that will more often than not shut off any avenue of advancement?
Are we living up to the American idea when corporations are rewarded for slashing jobs, or shipping them overseas, leaving those without work destitute, or forced to take a job, any job, at a much lower pay rate just to survive?
Were we living up to the American idea when past governments, both Democratic and Republican, condoned dictatorships and right-wing coups in the name of "stability" and "national security"?
Are we living up to a care for our posterity when powerful forces in this country care not a whit for the environment which will be left to the future, as long as a profit can be made in the present?
These are defining questions for what a new American patriotism should entail.
Not militarism, but a foreign policy which protects legitimate national interests while ensuring that the concerns of foreign partners are also addressed. We are passed the day when any nation can afford an imperial military establishment.
Not the Right's fervid belief that this country was built by individuals with no help from anyone, but a realization that this country was built collectively, by the sweat and intelligence of all of us. All of us have received help from others. My government-backed student loans are evidence of this. I did the study, but I couldn't have done it on my own. (And I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees from state schools, built and funded by tax money.)
Not a fantastical, libertarian dream of utter self-sufficiency, but an acknowledgment that we are a commonwealth; we are only as strong as our weakest member, and if that person is very weak, we are all diminished. It is in the interest of our society to lift everyone up. The political argument on how best to do that is the stuff of democracy; the fact that it should be done, however, should be a given.
This is the new patriotism that the Left needs to embrace and promote to counter the toxic jingoism of the radical Right. It's a patriotism in which companies do not profit from exporting well-paying American jobs. It's a patriotism in which the care for our earth is as important as the care for our economy. It's a patriotism doesn't bestride the world like a domineering Colossus, but leads by example, forging alliances, using force truly as a final alternative. It is a patriotism which affirms life as it exists, and strives to improve it.
It is a patriotism which, I can see, the youth who voted in their millions for Barack Obama embrace. It's this youth which will carry on the Obama Revolution. They will be the leaders of the very near future, coming to political maturity in the Age of Obama, believing in this new American patriotism: inclusive, peaceful, expansive. I hope they seize the chance afforded them; every generation has the mandate to remake the world it finds; it's now their turn.
And this new patriotism is not confined to the Left.
There are still sane Republicans left. Many of them have become independents or Democrats, disgusted by the constant lurching to the Right that the party has gone through since Richard Nixon's days. But even among conservative Republicans, there are those who fear what the party has become since the Tea Party revolt. The party is in a state where, if it doesn't change, it will become a regional party for disaffected whites. While in the short term it might serve the country's interests to have this radical vision of the GOP neutered, no democracy can long prosper with one dominant political party. The country needs a sane conservatism. The country needs a consensus on what an American commonwealth is, but should have various paths to get there.
Whatever Republicans left in the House and Senate, who are not beholden to the Tea Party, have to ask themselves is this: Are they Republicans first, or Americans? Do they govern for party, or for country?
If the former, then their doom is sealed. The GOP will stutter further to the Right, until it will be unelectable outside of certain pockets of the country.
If the latter, then they have to ask themselves further: Do they have the courage to face possible primary challenges in order to do what is right for the country? Do they, even, leave what's left of the GOP to the radical Right, and form a true center-right party that can compete nationally?
The GOP is heading for a crack up, and as far as I can see the Tea Party will win. If mainstream conservatives do form a new party, they will be in competition mostly with this Tea Party rump, in a struggle to define what "conservative" will mean in an age after the Obama Revolution.
So the sane conservatives, who believe in their principles, have to decide whether they want "conservatism" to be championed by the likes of Virginia Foxx and Louie Gohmert. If not, then they have to fight.
All politics are human. And sometimes human beings do surprising things.