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JDN 2457208 (July 4, 2015)

Independence Day is a holiday centered around patriotism. But very few ever stop to ask: What is patriotism?

The usual assumption seems to be that patriotism is a mindless tribal devotion to everything your country does, an attitude of “America: Love It or Leave It” which is perhaps best epitomized by thinking that the PATRIOT Act is an appropriate name.

Based on this assumption, there are two major camps:

The first camp consists of people on the far right (I almost said “conservatives”; but no, these are reactionaries if not crypto-fascists) who are considered “patriots” because they insist that America is the best, always, no matter what, and anyone who criticizes anything done in the name of America is a traitor. They love our awesome military might, by far the most powerful in the world.

The second camp consists of people on the left who are not considered patriots because they dare to question American policy and acknowledge that one of the ways we are number 1 is in mass incarceration. They hate our military might and want it all to be dismantled.

But in fact I think patriotism is, or ought to be, something greater than that, something more nuanced. I believe that a patriot is someone who believes in the principles upon a nation was founded. This is particularly apt in the United States, where our nation literally was founded upon principles.

A true American patriot is not someone who believes in the PATRIOT Act, but someone who repudiates it because they believe in the First and Fourth Amendments. They are not someone who loves our military might uncritically, nor someone who hates all military might equally uncritically, but someone who believes we should seek the right balance between defending ourselves from foreign attack and saving the resources of our society for nobler ends. (I shook my head a little at another blog post I read today, by an economist I admire; no, I do not think the problem with the free world is an excess of pacifism.) A true patriot does not believe that we should detain suspected terrorists without warrant or trial; but nor do they believe that terrorism is purely a result of our own cruelty and imperialism. (Particularly baffling in that post I just linked is the assertion that if we left Iraq and Afghanistan Islamist terrorists would not follow us home; 9/11 was following us home.)

This is, no doubt, a difficult balance to achieve. It's much easier for the human mind to simply define a tribe and then consider that tribe either an in-group to be accepted and supported without hesitation or an out-group to be hated and destroyed with equal enthusiasm. It's much easier to choose a side than to critically analyze what both sides have to offer. But the right path is often not the easy path.

So now, a list, of the good and the bad in America:

What makes me proud for America

  1. For all our failure to apply it properly, the Constitution of the United States of America remains the longest-standing national constitution in the world. It was the first republican constitution in recorded history, and yet here it stands to this day. We celebrate Independence Day because above all it was the founding of the free world as we know it.
  2. Our global military hegemony has not resulted in a reign of terror, but in the Pax America, the Long Peace, the greatest global peace in human history.
  3. Even after a disturbing plunge as a result of the NSA, we still have one of the highest ratings in the world for freedom of the press.
  4. We are a nation of immigrants, and have by far the most open immigration and the largest immigrant population of any nation in the world.
  5. We have elected a person of a racial minority head of state, consistent with our high ranking in the world for low rates of racial intolerance. (If you think America is racist, you should try everywhere else.)
  6. We are consistently high ranked for the voice of our people, the effectiveness of our government, and the control of corruption in our society.

What must be changed to make America what it should be

  1. We have the highest rate of mass incarceration in the world. In some ways we are one of the world's freest nations—and yet we imprison a larger number than anyone else, and a higher proportion than all but a few tiny tyrannical nations.
  2. We have committed torture, in direct violation of international law.
  3. We maintain an arsenal of over 5,000 nuclear warheads (though it used to be considerably more), more than enough to destroy every city on Earth and seriously imperil the very survival of the human race. We are also the only nation on Earth to have ever actually used nuclear weapons in war.
  4. Though actually low by world standards, we still have an unconscionable amount of racism, including some that erupts into mass violence and arson. We systematically discriminate against Black and Hispanic individuals in a variety of ways.
  5. In direct violation of our own Constitution, we imprison suspected terrorists without trial.
  6. We have the highest rates of child poverty in the First World (I don't think Romania actually counts as “First World”; they are Second World), one of the highest rates of overall income inequality, and the highest concentration of income at the top 0.01% in the world. We have the world's largest quantity of wealth (at market exchange rates; adjusting for purchasing power we are a close second to China), yet our distribution of this wealth is such that a handful of people become mind-bogglingly rich while millions suffer in poverty. (A 90% tax on capital income applied only to the Forbes 400 would be enough to service our national debt.)
  7. We have privatized prisons and soldiers, selling fundamental government services to the private sector. This is fundamentally corrupt.
  8. Speaking of corruption, our campaign finance system is deeply skewed toward wealthy individuals and large corporations.
  9. Our banking system is comprised of an oligopoly of super-powerful corporations that have committed horrendous crimes; even trillions of dollars in price-fixing seem almost pedestrian compared to collusion with the Nazis and laundering money for terrorists. Meanwhile our government seems unwilling to enact any significant punishment, much less what is truly necessary—tearing down these companies completely, imprisoning their ringleaders, and rebuilding the financial system from scratch. I think I agree with the Green Party that the banking system should be radically reformed and the monetary system fully nationalized.

So, yes, we have a long way to go. But we have also come very far—and we are moving the right direction.

I believe in America. Not necessarily as it is, but as it could be, as it strives to be.

Patrick Julius

Patrick Julius

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