For some folks that must be an easy one to answer. For at least a few of us it is a bit more difficult, not the least of reasons for this being the hint of blackmail in the question. Few things will chase off ones affections quite so effectively as the feeling that one is being bullied into it.
It hasn’t always been that difficult.
I remember a particular July 4th (1980, I think) when it was particularly easy for me to say how I felt about my country. I and my rifle team were representing the state of Wyoming at the Daisy International BB-Gun championships in Bowling Green, Kentucky. (As I recall, teams came from 48 states plus Mexico and Japan, …hence the “International” part of a primarily American contest.)
Those that have read my comments about the rights of gun-owners (or at least about some of the crap–rhetoric produced in support of those rights), might wonder just what I was doing at such an event, let me just say that I was a very different person at 14. I should add that the NRA was also a very different organization at the time.
If your guessing that a double-dose of God and country were part of that ideology, then you are guessing right. With the whole shooting contest falling on Independence Day, you can imagine what the night’s festivities were like. The fireworks were spectacular, and spectacularly close. Bits and pieces fell on us as we looked up in the sky. But long before that bit came the Star Spangled Banner. Standing there, with my hand on my heart, representing my state, I couldn’t have loved my country anymore without causing something to pop.
That was many years before college, before reading certain books, before meeting certain people, before I developed a grasp of the news, and well before I had come to see Ronald Reagan as anything but the best damned President ever to eat a jelly bean in the Oval Office.
It was also well before anyone had ever suggested that a dirty commie like me ought to go live in someplace like China.
Faced with that one, I always wanted to respond with something along these lines; “I live in a Constitutional Democracy where I get to say what I want about m government; if that doesn’t sit well with you, then why don’t you leave!?!” That probably wouldn’t have been the most constructive thing to say, but it would have felt good. …I honestly don’t remember if I ever actually said that, or even if I had many real chances to. I just remember that it was always the response that jumped to mind in the face of the love-it-or-leave-it gambit.
What my pet response does reveal is a conventionally liberal sense of patriotism, a notion that for all it’s problems, American government embodies some principles worth keeping, principles that may help us sort the problems for that matter. The point of this line of thinking was at least partly to take (or perhaps to take back) ownership of the values turned against me (and others) in such rhetoric. It was also, at least partly the emotional response of someone who actually did love his country, perhaps even enough to simply lash out when called on the issue.
Which reminds me, somewhere the Lakota writer, Vine Deloria Jr. once wrote that one of the ironies of American patriotism was that it could be expressed both by waving a flag and by burning it. …Deloria could be a very wise man, indeed.
I don’t know that I fully embrace that conventional liberal account of this country anymore. The classic themes of liberal politics now compete with criticisms far more sweeping than that, a sense that some of our nation’s problems are beyond the scope of its present virtues. This is perhaps one reason why my July 4th posts are typically filled with self-reflection rather than unabashed celebration.
…although I really just don’t do unabashed celebration.
In the end, I would have to say that I do love my country. I love my country in much the same way that I love my family. Growing up, it is easy to believe in the exceptionalism of one’s own kin, to think of them as standing a head taller than others in one form or another. When you are a child, it is easy to think of the differences between other families one’s own as confessions of sorts on their, each deviance from one’s own model being a flaw in the make-up of other families.
There comes a day (let us hope) when the illusion falls away and one comes to realize that his own father is not necessarily the wisest, bravest, and strongest man that ever lived, that Mother’s love is not quite as pure as a field of fresh snow, and that one’s siblings are not truly unique in their virtues. There comes a time, when one learns to see in the flaws and personal squabbles of his family a fatal case against its superiority. Each of your kin has their merits and their flaws, but what neither you nor any member of your family can really claim is an exalted place above the world of others. And for most of us (again, …let us hope) one goes on loving his family long after realizing this.
You go on loving your family, not because you are deluded about their special qualities, but because they are yours. You feel their heartaches in your own chest, their victories in your own smile, and their frustrations in your own pulse. So too with one’s country. Much as a running feud with a sibling, complaints against your country become yet another source of connection to it, and if you allow this to happen, one which ties your aspirations to the welfare of the nation.
I should add I don’t see anything particularly noble in this sense of affection. I certainly don’t see it as obligatory, and bear no ill-will against those that don’t feel it. I won’t be sneering at those for whom this ambling excuse for a post doesn’t resonate. It’s just my own sense of how I feel about my country. I do love it, not because I think it’s exceptional, but because it is mine.
It’s pretty simple for me: The US is my gang. Somebody messes with us I fight back, even if I don’t like all the gang members, even if I don’t like the members who make some of the decisions on how the gang is run. I’m part of them…they are part of me and no matter what I like or don’t like about them, gang loyalty is bigger than anything else. Internal fighting, disagreements and even riots are okay but if someone from outside/another country comes at the USA gang itself, we put our disagreements on hold and defend Her together. I don’t know how to think about it any other way. I can fight my own government, but no one else is allowed to do that. It’s a closed system.
I absolutely get the it’s-my-gang theme, and I suppose I feel that way about actual attacks. I’m pretty open to criticism, even coming from foreigners. Occasionally, one such criticism will rub me the wrong way, but mostly I’m okay with harsh scrutiny..
Adventures in Kevin's World said:
Nice post. I love when you make me think. Dangerous thing, that thinking thing.
Unfortunately, it made me think about Fox news. Where, when Bush was president the talking heads said that anyone who disagreed with Bush should leave. But now that someone else is president, they have no problem with publicly bashing him. That’s another rant I suppose.
And isn’t that part of what makes this a great country? We can disagree with each other and the government, and we’re allowed to. Beautiful.
Yeah, it’s amazing how easily some folks went from calling critics of the war enemies of the state to the most disgusting and pointless personal attacks. A lot boils down to the details of course, but that’s always the case. My biggest fear is that the disagreements may well amount to one big wash-out. I keep coming back to the question of what views (and modes of engagement0 actually matter?
Juliana Lightle said:
I love my country but that does not preclude my criticizing governmental policies, e.g. especially foreign policy. Sometimes when a person is very critical, others think you do not care about where you live. Having been to a number of other places with much stricter rules about what one can and cannot do, I appreciate the freedoms here greatly.
Interesting post. I grew up in a leftward leaning environment in a suburb of New York City, which sounds about as different as your childhood environment as one can get and still be withing the boundaries of the United States. Although it was far from universal, there was a substantial number of people who seem to think that the United States was the source of all evil. In a way, I’ve come to see that as being its own form of American Exceptionalism. I wrote about my own experience of this a couple of weeks ago in a post entitled “On Patriotism as a Choice.”
I can’t fault you for the bb gun championship. It was the only thing that kept summer camp from being as emotionally damaging as gym class for this particular uncoordinated nerd, who apparently has pretty good spatial perception. It was my favorite sport because it was the only one at which I was not an absolute mess. The biathlon, which is one of the few Olympic sports I might actually want to do, is not exactly dominated by the U.S. and my Canadian ex-husband had an affection for his childhood bb gun in a way that seemed odd for an adult man. Anyway, it’s perfectly possible to enjoy the sport without the weird jingoistic trappings.
Every fourth of July, I was told the story about how my grandmother’s sister impaled herself on an American flag. To this day, I can’t look at a little kid holding one of those tiny flags on a stick without shuddering.
I have a couple of friends with whom I discuss politics often. Unlike exchanges on the internet, there’s a context and we don’t have to prove our lefty bona fides before criticizing the left. (I’m the moderate liberal in the group.) Your “pet response” echos something we say over and over again.
Well, I could go on about this, so I’m trying to be brief. (When I try to be brief, I also tend to be unclear.) I feel like I’ve been getting a ridiculous number of contentious moments with people on the internet, frequently with people whose politics probably overlap with mine greatly. Anti-American rhetoric from the left is entirely counter-productive. Telling them so is probably futile. Too many people get emotional satisfaction from feeling superior.
I’m going on fifty. If you put that in its historical context: I was born in the mid-sixties, many of my values were formed in the seventies, influenced heavily by feminism and a counter-culture that had gone mainstream, and I had the good fortune to hit puberty before the rise of AIDS. In my lifetime I’ve seen the right rise in a way that would have been entirely unpredictable when I was in high school. So, I confess to having a feeling of urgency on this subject sometime. I wish I could argue without getting emotionally engaged because it takes too much out of me.
Very, very well spoken, Daniel.
Enjoy the nomination for the Bouquet of Awards! Have a nice day!
I have learned in my life that everyone has the same ability to say what they want, when they want and that is the American way. I do not have to agree nor disagree but I must give them their say. I have also learned that people can be extremely intolerant to other people and how they view things. Most of the time it is a line in the sand. Think of our Alamo. If you were inside it you felt you were in the right and of course you died for your beliefs. But if you were on the other side and charged that structure and died you died for the belief that Santa Anna was right in his beliefs. As an American I truthfully have to respect both for having the right to make their decisions.