A Patriotism Optional Nation
“In the beginning of a change the patriot is a scarce man, and brave, and hated and scorned. When his cause succeeds, the timid join him, for then it costs nothing to be a patriot.” -Mark Twain
This is going to be a long post, so I’ll beg forgiveness now. But what needs to be said is far too important to attempt to keep this brief, or under 750 words – for if it were that simple, then it wouldn’t need to be said.
Our nation is at a crossroads of our history. Down one path lay the glory and honor bestowed on us by the men whose names we learn to cherish as children: Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Lincoln. Down the other lay one paved in darkness and guarded by men we’ve learned to revile: Stalin, Hitler, Napolean, Caesar. We haven’t arrived at this juncture by accident, but it wasn’t pre-ordained, either. We came to this point willingly and of our own accord.
How did we arrive here? Because when times call for the greatest fortitude, people clamor for illusory safety and willingly allow government to abscond with what we once described as inalienable liberties. While our nation followed this course during the 18th and 19th centuries, we never forgot – or allowed our elected representatives – to forget the meaning of the word “inalienable.” Even the most egregious violations of the Bill of Rights and examples of executive overreach were quickly repealed. Or failing that, the third leg of our government – the courts – would invalidate the law in question. During the Civil War, the government violated the Third Amendment (prohibiting quartering soldiers in private homes), the Eighth Amendment (prohibiting cruel and unusual punishment), and Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution (the nation’s first military draft was enacted by executive order, not an act of Congress). By the war’s end, troops were no longer quartered in private homes, the Army commanders who had inflicted the most horrible deprivations the mind can create were themselves jailed and the Supreme Court invalidated the draft.
By the time the Great Depression had plunged the world into chaos, the citizenry was panicked. Governments around the world responded by instituting varying levels of socialism. In nations with a history of repressive governments, the repression reached new levels of inhumanity. Germany, Russia, Italy, Japan and China all gave rise to governments that (as a matter of policy) established mass executions and detentions while squelching all opposition. Spain erupted into a civil war between two equally brutal and repressive regimes.
In the US we instituted the “New Deal,” a series of programs that increased the government’s role in the economic and business life of the nation to unprecedented levels. This intrusion into previously private affairs didn’t infringe on the basic freedoms enshrined in our Constitution, the Bill of Rights or the Declaration of Independence. But it did set an important milestone in the affairs of the nation. It marked the firs time the nation willingly exchanged freedom of action for the illusion of security. (Let’s face facts: the national economy in 1939 was only marginally better than in 1929).
However, with the outbreak of World War II, Americans accepted not only having their inalienable rights curtailed, but in several case outright removed. Japanese-Americans by the tens of thousands were jailed, their citizenship nullified by executive order, in violation of the Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments. First Amendment protections were stripped away, as a compliant press and population acquiesced to censorship on a grandiose scale. Defendants were not allowed to exercise their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in “national security” trials. J.Edgar Hoover’s FBI routinely searched homes and businesses for saboteurs – without warrants, in violation of the Fourth Amendment.
After the war ended, these Constitutional violations ended. But 44 months of war and deprivation, after 12 years of government intrusion during the Great Depression, had inoculated the American public from the idea that government needed to be guarded against. An entire generation had now grown up knowing only a federal bureaucracy that claimed it could solve the problems of mankind.
“If tyranny and oppression come to this land it will be in the guise of fighting a foreign enemy” -James Madison
Thanks to the relentless indoctrination our nation has endured for almost 80 years, both from popular culture and the way we teach (or more accurately, fail to teach) history and civics, the United States of America is no longer the home of the brave. This is not to say that there are not courageous individuals among us. Obviously there are, or else things like this wouldn’t happen. But our society no longer expects bravery as the norm, which is why we celebrate those willing to run into collapsing towers.
This transformation of the American from rugged individual to fearful member of the collective gave rise to egregious abuses of power over the last six decades. Some we still remember: McCarthyism, Watergate, Iran-Contra. Others have slipped the collective conscience and disappeared in to mists of time. The common thread between all, though, is an underlying belief that government should have more power than the people it serves – all in the name of safety. It’s how we’ve wound up with massive programs. It’s how lawmakers and executives of both major parties can say with a straight face programs like PRISM are necessary to keep Americans safe.
This brings us to the 21st century, a century that began with the downing of the World Trade Center. The American populace screamed for vengeance, yelled for justice – but more importantly, demanded the government make them safe. And the government responded to those demands; not with a measured voice reassuring the populace that the terrorists would be caught and punished. Instead, two major wars were launched by executive fiat. Yes, the Congress technically voted to invade those foreign countries, but the vote was actually to cede the power vested in them by the Constitution to the Executive branch. Seemingly overnight, we were a nation at war.
“We cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home.” -Edward R. Murrow
In the same way the United States has ceased being collectively valorous, we have sullied the definition of patriotism. Being a patriot requires more than waving a flag on Independence Day, singing “God Bless America” during a baseball game; it is more than putting a lapel pin on your suit jacket or cheering returning soldiers. These are nothing more than outward displays of nationalism. Regardless of a nation’s ideals, such actions are performed by supposed patriots of every nation. Britons stand when a band strikes up “God Save the Queen,” Saudi’s bow when the King’s limo passes by.
On the other hand, the patriot understands and defends the ideals which separate his nation from all others. The original American patriots pledged “our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Many gave their lives, more sacrificed their fortunes. None, however, were forced to give up their honor. Rather, their honor was restored by fighting for the ideals in the document they signed in 1776. In our modern era, the rights they enshrined as being inalienable, rights that laid the foundation for our nation, are being eroded by the misnamed Patriot Act, by secret courts and warrants, by an executive branch that sees little value in life or liberty. Where are the modern patriots?
The reality is patriotism is a vanishing character from our nation. More than half of our citizens are perfectly happy to be spied on by their government, not caring this can only occur as an abrogation of the Fourth Amendment. Over the past week, I continuously hear statements like “If the government wants to watch me watch porn, I don’t care.” Nobody much cares if the Nazi’s can’t march in Washington, so long as they can watch Honey Boo-Boo. After all, freedom of speech isn’t for people who might have offensive views but only those with whom we can commiserate. Abridging the Second Amendment, redefining it if necessary, is fine. The public doesn’t care, so long as it can be made to feel safer. Seventh and Eighth Amendment protections for suspected terrorists need not apply – especially if the hapless citizen accused of terrorism is overseas. Why bother with a trial, when a missile tipped robot can eliminate the problem? If a bunch of kids in Brooklyn get stopped and frisked by the NYPD for the awful crime of walking around, who cares about their rights to due process? The cops might find a gun on one of them.
All of this is now acceptable to an American people conditioned towards cowardice. Our forefathers abandoned personal safety and financial security in the pursuit of liberty. They did this at the founding of the nation and as they expanded the national boundaries westward. They did this as they boarded creaky ships to cross the Atlantic in the 18th, 19th and early 20th Centuries. These people were patriots. They did not fear their government, they stood for their rights and took it to task when government dared infringe upon them.
“When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty.”― Thomas Jefferson
Despite the platitudes from the elected, our modern government is no longer “of the people, by the people and for the people.” The modern American constantly lives in fear of what the government may do to them, rather than holding government to account for its actions. They often don’t even realize how afraid of government they’ve become. They live in fear of being audited by the IRS, of having their driving privileges revoked, of having their property seized by “eminent domain.” They live in fear that their employer will lose a government contract, of being denied a government loan, of being denied admission to college.
So, my question to you is: what are you willing to give up for liberty, those of you who call yourselves patriots? Are you willing to sacrifice your life? Your house? Your bank account? Your Social Security check? How about the big screen television or cell phone? Because our reality is that very few are willing to sacrifice anything. It’s why we’ve become a nation of nationalists, not patriots. We cower when we should fight. If you want to know why you are no longer safe in your cities, America, look no further than the rot that infects your citizenry’s soul. Your complacency as the nation’s values were stolen is the reason our foreign enemies are emboldened.
“Great occasions do not make heroes or cowards; they simply unveil them to the eyes of men. Silently and perceptibly, as we wake or sleep, we grow strong or weak; and last some crisis shows what we have become. ” ― Brooke Foss Westcott
America is now the nation of cowards. As such, we’ve become the patriotism optional society.
May God help us all.