Conceived in Liberty

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.- Mark Twain

It is not always the same thing to be a good man and a good citizen- Aristotle

You’re not to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.  -Malcom X

The love of one’s country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border? -Pablo Casals

Vote for me and I’ll set you free. / Rap on brother, rap on.- The Temptations “Ball of Confusion” (Norman Whitfield, Barrett Strong)

The strongest weapon in the United States is a patriotic American   -A Tee shirt (unattributed)

At an airport recently I spotted a young woman wearing a tee shirt with the final quote above emblazoned over the American flag.  The essence of our constitution proclaims the rights of the individual. Ergo, individuals defending its ideals would naturally be the best defense against any threats to it. The power of the individual has always been strongest through words, for in the final analysis the pen is mightier than the sword. The American Revolution may have ultimately been decided through the apparatus of war, but the movement was powered by voices like Thomas Paine. The founders were not popular in the beginning. Indeed, to many they were radical traitors.  In our present culture where violence is increasingly encouraged against certain citizens from the highest stages of power  for what they write, report and believe, it is important to remember that. The first amendment exists to protect unpopular speech. Popular speech requires no such protection and it is unpopular speech which typically ignites change.

The tee shirt in question seemed at first glance agreeable enough. Surely the actions of individuals throughout our history have opened the doors to massive societal changes. But I was curious as to who the quote could be attributed to. I also suspected that this adage might represent a particular type of ideology.

I could not find any attribution for the quote. What I did find was a plethora of websites offering the same shirt as well as others- for sale.  The quote was used against many different backdrops. Other paraphernalia displayed different sayings.   There were  bountiful images of eagles, wheat fields, purple mountains majesty above abundant fruited plains as well as images of individuals wearing the uniforms of our armed forces, many of them properly saluting the flag. There were also images of guns. Lots of images of guns some alongside images of skeleton heads, which seemed a bit sick but none the less appropriate. It was all very militaristic. There were plenty of quotes from the present occupant of the Oval Office who  avoided military service due to bone spurs that may or may not have been a real thing.

I am concerned that the mere wearing of patriotic emblems is too often conflated with actual patriotism. Should we be concerned when the shipping of tee shirts is freer than speech itself?

So, what is patriotism? Is there a definition we can all agree on?

Is calling into question the policies of a presidential administration unpatriotic? Is it patriotic to infringe a free press? Is it patriotic for an American to use the instrument of the constitution to secure the blessings of liberty by utilizing amendments other than the second one?

When lapel pin wearing politicians avoid the mere discussion of sensible firearms legislation while their constituents , including those who have barely mastered the alphabet much less the ability to tie their shoes are victimized on a daily basis; may they be considered patriots? Was not Martin Luther King , who never carried a gun acting patriotically when he led marches in support of the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness denied to so many of his (of our) fellow citizens ? Is military service the only type of patriotic service? Are not those who feed the hungry, care for the sick, teach children, and advocate to preserve our physical environment also securing the blessings of liberty for themselves, their posterities and their communities? Is it proper to conflate those notions of patriotism with marchers who carry swastikas and commit vehicular homicide against progressive counter protesters?

How patriotic are benign reactions from the highest bastion of power to the manipulation of our elections by a foreign government? Is seeking to deprive health care to  20 million citizens sans any replacement a measure of patriotic empathy? May the thumbing of a presidential nose at legally served subpoenas and court orders be excused if it is accompanied by certain imagery and loads of uber-nationalistic rhetoric?  Is it patriotic to slash funding for feeding under served school children and the economic lifelines of disadvantaged seniors?

Does any of this help to form a more perfect union, establish justice,  secure domestic tranquility, provide for a common defense or support the general welfare?   Those pursuits, to me, are the essence of the patriotic ideals of we, the people. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that the pursuit of such virtues cannot be realized through the pandering of ideologues, or mere purchases from web sites of emblematic accessories. Dedications to the ideals of a nation should be attired in the heart, manifested through action and not just worn on the lapel of a blazer.

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