While reading Kurt Vonnegut’s “Mother Night” yesterday, I was struck by the protagonist Howard H. Campbell’s response to the question, “You hate America, don’t you?”
He replies, “That would be as silly as loving it. It’s impossible for me to get emotional about it, because real estate doesn’t interest me. It’s no doubt a great flaw in my personality, but I can’t think in terms of boundaries. Those imaginary lines are as unreal to me as elves and pixies. I can’t believe that they mark the end or the beginning of anything of real concern to a human soul.”
Like many of Vonnegut’s characters, Campbell sees patriotism as a “granfalloon,” a pointless association of people created by politicians trying to sell you something.
On Independence Day, I was moved to wonder if a special love for one’s country is even appropriate.
While I do think so, I think it’s firstly important to acknowledge the phony patriot in our midst.
Donald Trump, the United States president and showman, wants us to think he’s a patriot, that he puts “America first,” reads the Constitution like the Gospel and bleeds red, white and blue.
To me, those are empty words.
A person who mocks veterans and gold star families, brags about tax evasion, defers the draft five times, attacks the press and the judiciary personally and viciously, rails against constitutional constraints on his power, dubs his enemies traitors and champions protectionist policies in the same breath that he complains about European Union restrictions on his golf resorts is no patriot.
Donald Trump’s behavior makes him more likely to be an aspiring but incompetent kleptocrat, who’s obsessed with his personal image, is thin-skinned and too easily bored to read things like memos.
Being president satisfies his limitless narcissism, perverting authentic patriotism into a personality cult.
Trump epitomizes social psychologist Erich Fromm’s critique from his book “The Sane Society” that “love for one’s country which is not part of one’s love for humanity is not love, but idolatrous worship.”
I long for a patriotism that’s fanatic about human rights, which cares less about flags and more about the liberties they symbolize, which hates tyrants and loves the free press.
America needs a patriotism that gives money freely, despises jingoism, condemns colonizers and questions everything we once learned in school.
I imagine a patriotism that strives to put everyone it can on that great American escalator to prosperity, while acknowledging that some people can’t take the stairs.
The thousands of Confederate memorials that still stand on American soil should outrage true patriots.
The lack of memorials to remember the planned, orchestrated spectacles of terror we euphemistically call “lynchings” even more so.
True patriotism is a love for all Americans, not just the white male ones, or the presidential ones or the successful ones.
These ideas seem elementary, but somehow they are lost among the noise of fireworks and Big Daddy Splash contests of neighborhood pool parties.
Independence Day should be a celebration of how far we’ve come to create a multiracial and egalitarian democracy.
And how far we have to go.
Until we reach that point, Frederick Douglass’s words will continue to haunt our celebrations.
“This Fourth of July is yours, not mine,” he said.
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