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  • Writer's pictureDoug Weiss

A Patriot

Among many examples of dissonance I’ve seen of late, a confrontation between a group of self-appointed counter protestors and representatives of the Lakota Sioux tribe at the entrance to Mt. Rushmore set a new low. The Lakota sought to block a staged political performance on their sacred ancestral land; land that was taken from them by another politician more than 90 years ago. The counter protestors brandishing the American flag along with banners emblazoned with the name of the current President shouted at the native American “go back to where you came from”—surely one of the most ironic statements one could imagine. The Lakota would gladly do so of course, if only they could go back—to a time and a place that was not so desecrated.

This confrontation, like so many others these days arises when a group of people lay sole claim to label themselves as patriots—as Americans, casting aspersion on all who hold opposing views. In America, there is no such thing as the loyal opposition, or some would have us believe. But to oppose, to disagree and debate, to passionately defend one’s views is, or once was a hallmark of this country, a place where anyone could do so without fear or derision. We might well ask, where did we lose our way, when did we become a people so intolerant of opposition that we associate patriotism with blind obedience and the price of being an American a rejection of every one and every thing that bends a knee to principles over party?

I cannot say for sure—traces of this behavior have been with us my entire lifetime, though once such an attitude was generally kept in the dark. I don’t know if it is better now that it is more in the open and justified by its perpetrators but at least it is clear who holds such sentiments. The absurdity of labelling someone unpatriotic or un American never seems to register for those who rely on this form of deprecation. The soul of America and what it means to each of us is so wide ranging and varied in experience as to defy any glib pronouncement. From small towns to big cities, East coast to West, South to North, from mountains to seaside—it is all America and all of this sprawling, chaotic and undisciplined land means something different to each of us.

If you go far enough back, we are all immigrants here—even Native Americans came here though they certainly hold a more just claim to the land then any who came later. Nor do most of us have much in common with one another except our own self-selected affiliations. We are of this time and that place and we are all Americans and even when we are angry, saddened or worried about the future of our country we love it no less. So, when someone seeks to accuse any of us of being un American as a certain group of people did in the 1950s, or when latter day members of a political cult have the temerity to describe those they don’t like as un-patriotic we must stand our ground.

The highest form of patriotism is to love one’s country enough to want it to live up to its promise. In the case of America that promise is one that welcomes those who desire freedom, celebrates those who stand in defense of the weak, the poor, the victims of injustice, and those who would work and sacrifice for a more perfect union. They are not those who set themselves up to judge who is worthy and who is not. Those who believe that a certain race or religion, membership in a political party or any other such qualifier gives them the right to deny our love of country –our right to speak, vote, and live our lives with dignity and freedom will find themselves subject to the very same poison they peddle. It’s only a question of time. This thing we call America cannot be bottled up and merchandised with dog whistle flag waving and slick marketing—it is far too late for that to work anymore. No one gets to tell us what our America means—that is our right alone. We get to decide what brings a lump to our throats, swells our hearts with pride and what we must work hard to change to make this country live up to its ideals. No politician, party, person or movement enjoys the right to lay claim to exclusivity—we are Americans –all of us.

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