A musing: In the land of blind patriotism, is the critic traitor or king?

Here is your country. Cherish these natural wonders, cherish the natural resources, cherish the history and romance as a sacred heritage, for your children and your children’s children. Do not let selfish men or greedy interests skin your country of its beauty, its riches or its romance. – Theodore Roosevelt

America had a big weekend. A birthday on Saturday, a win on an international stage over a decade in the making on Sunday, and, maybe most importantly, the most American theme day ever known to a camp on Friday. It was while screaming AMERICA with one hundred screaming children that I finally realized what ingrained blind patriotism looks like when you’ve been away from it for a year. Patriotism has its upsides; there is somehow nothing more American than the USWNT’s 5-2 World Cup final win over Japan. Simply put, congratulations ladies, you’ve done us far prouder than the men (always important) and you’ve given us a real, tangible reason to love our nation’s presence on the international stage. #SHEBELIEVES #IBELIEVETHATWEWILLWIN #USAUSAUSA.

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And unlike a Dave Matthews Band concert in Connecticut, the riots that follow some NCAA Final Four championships, or the mayhem of a pumpkin festival in Keene, NH, the win was largely celebrated peacefully. I don’t know if it is because Americans only care about soccer when we win, or because we devalue women’s sports at the national/international level regardless of the amount of times they outperform them men, but not hearing about riots was a welcome change of pace. Like many other things, like intolerance and a superiority complex generally known only to eunuchs, I’ve never understood what destruction has had to do with patriotism.

I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. – James Baldwin

Question everything like a wannabe writer in 2000's Tree Hill with questionable hair. Courtesy of the CW.
Question everything like a wannabe writer in 2000’s Tree Hill with questionable hair. Courtesy of the CW.

Living abroad has made me see American love of country, and how we express that love, in a different light. I love the individuals that this nation produces. We’ve taken the phrase carpe diem and somehow infused it into our very souls. Because we (most of us compared to the world at large, not the spectrum of American life) grow up within a strange nexus of privilege and no guarantees, we don’t expect to be bailed out, or caught by a governmental safety net (we are individuals, not banks, superPACs, or corporations, after all). But at the same time, we have a very hard time criticizing our nation, and escaping the hamster-wheel of ‘tradition’ and supposed intents of long-dead men of privilege.

For example, why do we insist that education must be for profit? That college must be the norm instead of comprehensive K-12 education followed by functional apprenticeships? Why do we set off massive amounts of fireworks (that have nothing to do with American culture or history) to celebrate our nation’s birthday, though we know full well that they are PTSD triggers for veterans, disturb our pets, and are terrible for the environment? Why do we cling to amendments and rights that were based in the right and need to have a standing militia? Tradition and protection of rights are good things, but when we don’t question the history of the tradition, and the place of certain rights within a much-changed society, we do ourselves, a disservice. Blind loyalty, combined with the singing and chanting so common to our celebrations of sport, history, and life in this country can easily look less like the hallmark of what is meant to be a shining example of democracy in the world, and more like something that belongs to post-WWI Germany (and that is what it looks like to other countries). But we can have a better legacy and a better future.

Courtesy of Universal Studios.
Courtesy of Universal Studios.

In the face of impossible odds, people who love this country can change it. – Barack Obama

In the past few weeks, however, we have proven that we can change and direct the future of this nation in ways the founding fathers could never have conceived, let alone planned for while structuring the nascent government. We have affirmed that the government is not overstepping some oblique boundary by providing healthcare services to those who would otherwise be unable to afford them. We affirmed that marriage is a right regardless of sexuality, and in a very twisted way have opened the doors to conversations about human rights and separation of church and state, and actually pushing to modernize this country and step forward. A historic drought is sparking conversations about conservation, about wealth and human rights, and about sensible citizenship. We have the potential to affect positive change through patriotism in this country, though it may take rebuilding almost all of our systems so that they suit the kind of country America is now. I love this country, and we do face impossible odds. But the sooner we realize that criticism and rational evaluation of a system is in fact a part of patriotism and not treason, the sooner we can make ‘love of country’ result in real change, and not continue to be lip service in favor of an intangible ideal.

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