[I write about politics because of the direct link I see between the words and actions of politicians and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. America’s political class manipulates our military as though they were pawns in a global game of chess. To them, PTSD is merely an unfortunate cost of war.]
I believe that we Americans use the word “patriotism” too frequently during the 4th of July season. But I don’t think we think too much about what that really means. Perhaps we can agree on a simple definition: patriotism is love of country. After that it gets complicated, and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich believes “we need also to take to heart its five basic principles.” To wit:
First: True patriotism isn’t simply about waving the American flag. And it’s not mostly about securing our borders, putting up walls and keeping others out.
It’s about coming together for the common good. (In a nation of about 320 million people “common good” can be problematic. But surely we can agree on some matters that are indeed good for us all. I submit: public safety, excellence in education, all those Constitutional freedoms, racial and religious tolerance, health care, safe roads and bridges … add your own.)
Second: Real patriotism is not cheap. It requires taking on a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going – being willing to pay taxes in full rather than seeking tax loopholes and squirreling away money abroad. Not just voting but becoming politically active, volunteering time and energy to improving this country. (No one likes paying taxes, including me. But, when not being wasted, I do not mind paying for health care and social security and education. My argument against tax manipulation, excessive defense spending, and things of that nature is term limits. To paraphrase a fatuous phrase from the Gipper: politicians are not the solution; politicians are the problem. I honestly believe that “six years and out” for all public office holders would go a long way to mending our broken republic.)
Third: Patriotism is about preserving, fortifying, and protecting our democracy, not inundating it with big money and buying off politicians. It means defending the right to vote and ensuring more Americans are heard, not fewer. (Corporations are not people. And don’t you agree that there is a problem when one party, the republicans, believe that lower voter turnout equates to better chances for them winning elections? Democracy? Hardly.)
Fourth: True patriots don’t hate the government of the United States. They’re proud of their country and know the government is a tool to help us solve problems together. They may not like everything it does, and they justifiably worry when special interests gain too much power over it. But true patriots work to improve our government, not destroy it. (Agree. And speaking as a veteran, I believe way too much of our federal budget is spent on the Department of Defense. Go to any municipal department of public works facility in the country and look at the military equipment sitting there. Why? Because the Government has purchased more “stuff” and needs to discard this “waste” some way. Here is just one reason that this practice is so ridiculous. DoD gives town ABC three trucks that, at least the town figures it can use for snow plowing. Town ABC finds out that the plows it already owns and uses do not fit on the military vehicles. The trucks are never used for anything.)
Finally, patriots don’t pander to divisiveness. They don’t fuel racist or religious or ethnic divisions. They aren’t homophobic or sexist or racist.
To the contrary, true patriots seek to confirm and strengthen and celebrate the “we” in “we the people of the United States.”
That is, all the people of the United States.
[About the Author: ROBERT B. REICH, Chancellor’s Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, was Secretary of Labor in the Clinton administration. Time Magazine named him one of the ten most effective cabinet secretaries of the twentieth century. He has written thirteen books, including the best sellers “Aftershock” and “The Work of Nations.” His latest, “Beyond Outrage,” is now out in paperback. He is also a founding editor of the American Prospect magazine and chairman of Common Cause. His new film, “Inequality for All,” is now available on Netflix, iTunes, DVD, and On Demand. ]