Have we lost the cohesion that binds us all together as Americans?
By Carl Petersen
“It don’t look like no new patriotism to me, it looks like blind nationalism…And that ain’t right, that ain’t what patriotism’s all about. It ain’t about accepting everything you hear on television and everything your government tells you, that ain’t being a good patriot. Being a good patriot means you question every Mother F—–, everywhere, every time. Make sure your country stays your country. And it don’t mean you stop being a member of the world community either. And it sure ain’t about parties…loyalty to the party instead of loyalty to the truth. But if we don’t like things, it’s up to us to change things.” – “Little” Steven Van Zandt (1)

In a recent study conducted by the Pew Research Center, less than half of the Millennials interviewed said that the description of “a patriotic person” described them very well. (2) Perhaps this is simply indicative of the independence of this generation. After all, they were also found to be far less religious, less trusting of other people and more detached from traditional institutions. However, we cannot discount the fact that we have not exactly been the greatest of role models. If our country wants to inspire young patriots within the next generation, we need to do better.

Too often we think of patriotism in purely symbolic terms. For example, some seem to recite the pledge of allegiance with a particular gusto as if your love of country can be measured in decibels. Talking heads on television instinctively thank veterans for their service while their reporting regularly ignores the costs of our soldiers’ sacrifices. Flag lapel pins have become part of the unofficial dress code for politicians, even as they show blatant disrespect for offices occupied by those with different ideological values.

In the military, one salutes “the rank, not the man.” (3) An employee who wants to keep receiving a paycheck knows that the act of disagreeing with a boss must be done with tact. To maintain a civilized society it is necessary for the vast majority of citizens to respect the rule of law and the people responsible for its enforcement. Similarly, mutual respect between our elected officials is necessary if we are to work together to solve the problems facing our country.

If Joe Wilson believed that the President was incorrect when he stated before the Congress that the health care reforms that he was “proposing would not apply to those who are here illegally,” he certainly had a patriotic duty to expose the truth. (4) The networks always present a chance (or four) for the opposing party to present a rebuttal to the President’s televised speeches. I am also sure that Rep. Wilson, as an elected representative, has better access to the press than most of his constituents. Instead he chose to act like an audience member of the Jerry Springer show and heckled the person chosen by the majority of the electorate to be the President of the United States. But at least he was wearing three lapel pins, one of which had to be an American Flag. (5)

Outside the halls of Congress and when not dealing face to face with the Chief Executive, all bets are off. Protest and debate are hallmarks of a successful democracy. Basking in the failures and mishaps of the guy we did not vote for is also an established American tradition. Bush’s protein spill on the Prime Minister of Japan, Clinton’s ill advised deposit of DNA on Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress and the attempt on Shrub’s life by the pretzel lobby were all overplayed by the media. What all of these incidents had in common was that other than being embarrassing, they did not affect the country in any way.

It seems that with Obama our country entered new territory. Even before he had taken the oath of office, Rush Limbaugh was publicly stating that “I hope he fails.” (6) Ted Nugent stated that he gets “down on bended knee daily and pray to God that he does what he can to ensure that President Obama fails.” (7) A potential juror in the trial of Osama Bin Laden’s son-in-law was excused after telling the court “that he felt like that…a guilty conviction would help Obama and he didn’t want to do anything that would help President Obama.” (8)

In defense of his statement, Limbaugh asked “were the liberals out there hoping Bush succeeded or were they out there trying to destroy him before he was even inaugurated?” (9) Perhaps the OxyContin affected Limbaugh’s memory, but I remember Al Gore setting a very conciliatory tone after the Supreme Court’s rather unique ruling awarded the presidency to Bush. When the country faced the crisis of 9/11, Bush’s approval rating soared to 92%. (10) I personally hoped that my worst fears were not true and that future elections would bring different results. But I also wanted the best for my country and that meant hoping that the President would be a successful leader.

In his farewell address to the country, George Washington warned us that the emergence of political parties would supplant our loyalty to country. Unfortunately, his worst fears seem to have come true in modern day America. An opinion piece published in the Wall Street Journal stated that “it should be obvious that many of our country’s current problems either existed long before (the president) ever came to office, or are beyond his control. Perhaps if Americans stopped being so divisive, and congressional leaders came together to work with the president on some of these problems, he would actually have had a fighting chance of solving them.” (11) The author was writing about George W. Bush, but his words ring true if one inserts the name of any sitting president.
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(1) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nzguf7WBIM0#t=20
(2) http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2014/03/07/millennials-in-adulthood/
(3) http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/editorials/2006/12/04/Respect-the-office-A-new-senator-s-rudeness-to-Bush-is-unacceptable/stories/200612040254
(4) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgce06Yw2ro
(5) http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/09/10/obama.heckled.speech/art.joe.wilson.heckling.gi.jpg
(6) http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2009/01/16/limbaugh_i_hope_obama_fails
(7) http://www.classicrockmagazine.com/news/ted-nugent-admits-%E2%80%9Ci-prey-for-obama-to-fail%E2%80%9D/
(8) The Brian Lehrer Show from WNYC, March 26,2014, “Checking in on the Downtown Terror Trial 17:18
(9) http://www.rushlimbaugh.com/daily/2009/01/16/limbaugh_i_hope_obama_fails
(10) http://www.ropercenter.uconn.edu/data_access/data/presidential_approval.html
(11) http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB122584386627599251