I’m here to talk about something I call Critical Patriotism. We all know only too well that our government’s practices are often a far cry from the ideals we espouse as Americans.
I have repeatedly witnessed gross injustice occur in this country. We should not assume because we are Americans, and have democratic laws and institutions, that we do not make the same mistakes or achieve the same injustices that people commit in authoritarian countries. As humans, we are vulnerable to making these errors. To think that our American status will keep us from making them is delusion.
We have developed several disturbing habits in this country during the past few decades. Not merely do large numbers of people continue to live in poverty, but the middle class has dwindled to the extent of now being a minority. The standard of living for all but a few has substantially declined.
We also like to think of racism as a vestige of the past, but our federal, state and local governments practice institutional racism. It is an essential part of police procedures that result in the constant harassment of black people. It is institutionalized in the mass incarceration of black men that has been the ruin of many families.
So seeing these injustices, the question then arises: If America is not what it appears to be, should we continue to be patriotic? Our should we lose faith in our stated mission as a free society?
Seeing all these practices, I understood why the football player Koepernick chose to kneel during the National Anthem. Yet I fundamentally disagree with that decision. I felt nothing but anger when Andrew Cuomo said that America was never so great.
My nephew served the Army in Iraq and Kuwait. My father-in-law was shot in the chest in Vietnam. Had the bullet landed less than an inch away from where it did, he would not have survived.
My mother’s uncle served in France during World War I. While driving a supply truck there, his truck was blown up. He lost two ribs, and spent time in a wheelchair.
My father served in the Army four years. While he was not engaged in combat, he served the Army well.
I will not dishonor these relatives. Nor will I dishonor the others who served, often at the cost of their lives, or physical or mental wellbeing. They deserve better.
Our government fails because it is made of human beings. Such frailty creates the need for vigilance in upholding our democratic principles. If we are patriotic, we should not blindly accept what our leaders do.
We must fight injustice. We must work for economic and legal change. We must resist the calls of future leaders for the nation’s further entry into unjust wars.
But patriotic we must be. Archibald MacLeish said that America was promises, and it is our task to see that these promises are kept. This is done by faith in those promises, and an active commitment to them.