Dear President Trump,
Yesterday I said Steve Kerr is correct; real patriotism is about helping others and supporting the common good. I believe this is true, but I want to unpack the patriotism further. Patriotism has always been a squirmy thing for me, an idea I’ve wrestled with off and on since I was a child. I think I’ve told you how throughout my childhood my mother never stood for the pledge of allegiance or the national anthem. I found it confusing and embarrassing. I was also secretly proud of her for not conforming even as I wished she would just stand like everyone else and not stand out so much by sitting down.
But back to the issue of patriotism and why it’s been so uncomfortable for me. On the one hand, I have a strong conditioned response such that I involuntarily feel intense emotional sentimentalism and swelling pride at the first strains of the national anthem. Frequently, I even tear up. I actually hate this response of mine. Whenever I feel this rush of whatever it is, I recognize it’s the result of brainwashing. I nearly always have a discussion with myself about how I really don’t like the rah-rah America stuff, that I don’t think we are better than other countries.
And, America is home and it’s where everyone I love lives. Ultimately, I’m invested in our country living up to its promise that we are all equal and we all have the inalienable right to life and liberty and to the pursuit of happiness. If we were to finally get this right it would be something to feel proud of, to be sure.
I found a pretty awesome quote today by Sydney J. Harris, who was a Chicago journalist. I think you should have it tattooed on your inner left forearm. In 1953 he said: “The difference between patriotism and nationalism is that the patriot is proud of his country for what it does, and the nationalist is proud of his country no matter what it does; the first attitude creates a feeling of responsibility while the second a feeling of blind arrogance that leads to war.” We all need to take these words to heart because right now we have way too much blind arrogance going on and a woeful lack responsibility.
May we be safe to patriotically question and push our country when it’s veering off course.
May we call out blind arrogance and insist on responsible behavior.
May we understand that a healthy democracy requires impassioned debate.
May we be an America that is about peace here at home and in the wider world.