Moving Patriotism Beyond Symbols
Barack Obama began a week-long Americana theme (timed for July 4th) today with a speech on what patriotism means to him.
it is this essential American idea – that we are not constrained by the accident of birth but can make of our lives what we will – that has defined my life, just as it has defined the life of so many other Americans.
That is why, for me, patriotism is always more than just loyalty to a place on a map or a certain kind of people. Instead, it is also loyalty to America’s ideals – ideals for which anyone can sacrifice, or defend, or give their last full measure of devotion. I believe it is this loyalty that allows a country teeming with different races and ethnicities, religions and customs, to come together as one. It is the application of these ideals that separate us from Zimbabwe, where the opposition party and their supporters have been silently hunted, tortured or killed; or Burma, where tens of thousands continue to struggle for basic food and shelter in the wake of a monstrous storm because a military junta fears opening up the country to outsiders; or Iraq, where despite the heroic efforts of our military, and the courage of many ordinary Iraqis, even limited cooperation between various factions remains far too elusive.
I believe those who attack America’s flaws without acknowledging the singular greatness of our ideals, and their proven capacity to inspire a better world, do not truly understand America.
Patriotism, love of country, having an optimistic view of your fellow Americans, is always something I’ve found quite difficult to express in a way that makes sense. But I think what Obama is doing here – pushing us past symbols, pushing past the notion that patriotism means blind loyalty, is a good step in the right direction, toward a healthier expression of true 21st century patriotism.