Founded, Not Forsaken: A Republic (if you can keep it)
Happy Fourth of July, folks.
"Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?"
"A Republic, if you can keep it."
-- Ben Franklin to an unknown lady,
per the notes of delegate Dr. James McHenry of Maryland.
We've been called worse. A corporatocracy, an oligarchy, a plutocracy...whichever the definition, they seem to be far and away quite different from the initial goal of a republic. But across all forms, regardless, is the ever-present and apparently common denominator of national pride, perversely corrupted and reduced to nationalism and jingoism.
The two should never, ever be mistaken for a true, uniquely American definition of "patriotism" nor should they ever be used to justify war or to quell dissent.
In 2006,1 the Progressive Media Project distributed a piece from Howard Zinn called "Put away the Flags" which began this way (read the whole thing, tho -- it's good):
On this July 4, we would do well to renounce nationalism and all its symbols: its flags, its pledges of allegiance, its anthems, its insistence in song that God must single out America to be blessed.
Is not nationalism -- that devotion to a flag, an anthem, a boundary so fierce it engenders mass murder -- one of the great evils of our time, along with racism, along with religious hatred?
These ways of thinking -- cultivated, nurtured, indoctrinated from childhood on -- have been useful to those in power, and deadly for those out of power.
Our citizenry has been brought up to see our nation as different from others, an exception in the world, uniquely moral, expanding into other lands in order to bring civilization, liberty, democracy.
in 2007 in January of this year,2 but his words ring true today as on any other. He ends the piece with
We need to refute the idea that our nation is different from, morally superior to, the other imperial powers of world history.
We need to assert our allegiance to the human race, and not to any one nation.
On this, I agree -- that the only true "allegiance" we need pledge, above all, is to the human race. But as to putting away flags and symbols, not so much.
I agree that nationalism can be -- and often is -- a great evil.
But I disagree that all symbols of a nation's founding tenets must, by default, engender blind nationalism.
A symbol can be one of great hope, power and inspiration that, when properly respected and shared, can help individuals, groups and entire societies aspire to principles that encompass their common humanity and elevate that toward a goal worth achieving.
My flag may look identical to a teabagger's flag, yet mine speaks to me in words that I tie to the heart and soul of the nation, and to goals which I hope that the nation and her people will aspire to fulfill:
"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
-- The United States Congress, The US Constitution
"Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"
-- Emma Lazarus, 'The New Colossus'
"As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquillity, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries." - John Adams, Treaty of Tripoli
"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed."
-- Thomas Jefferson et alii, Declaration of Independence
"A True US Patriot loves what his country stands for, not necessarily what his country does, and will not shrink from holding America to her ideals."
-- Eric Zorn, The Chicago Tribune, "Durbin should have stood up for his opinion", June 23, 2005.
Yes, symbols can be tarnished by those seeking to use them inappropriately, in order to set one's nation and one's people or belief system above another's -- particularly when done to justify war or other unethical action. But symbols can also inspire peoples and nations to strive to better themselves, to live up the ideals set in place by their forefathers and to grow and expand those ideals to create a strong, vibrant nation -- one that excels through its participation in, involvement with and recognition of the other peoples, nations and needs who dwell beside and among us on this planet we all call "home."