“I Am a Patriot”

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I’m not quite sure why the Colin Kaepernick story has become such a big deal, except maybe that sports tends to draw a more conservative crowd both in participants and fans.  And more conservative folks tend to be more concerned with visual displays of patriotism, such as saluting the American flag and wearing cute little flag pins and tying yellow ribbons on every single thing they’ll fit around.  These folks also tend to be critical of anyone who does not display what they believe is an appropriate amount of public patriotism.  They also tend to be very critical of anyone who criticizes any aspect of the government that they themselves think is good.

A good example, perhaps, might be anyone who disagreed with the military actions in the Middle East after 9/11.  You were a liberal, commie, Muslim peacenik who clearly supported jihad and should probably be jailed just because you didn’t think we should be invading and bombing other countries without direct provocation.  These were the same types of people who got upset with anyone for criticizing any other war we’ve been involved with, oh, since the inception of the country.  None of this is new, or terribly surprising.

These more conservative folks also tend to get upset if you support something they disagree with–say, same-sex marriage.  Then, you’re suppressing their First Amendment rights.  Anytime someone they are opposed to tries to do anything these über patriotic types don’t like, they scream that the opposition is trampling on their rights and that they pay too much in taxes and that they’re under attack by liberals who are going to hell because they don’t believe in the exact same brand of Christianity these über patriots claim to believe in.  Name calling is very popular with this type of person.  Please note that name calling is not just a conservative trait; there are plenty of liberal name callers, too.  I am often guilty of it myself.  Name calling is juvenile and kind of silly, but it’s also an expected part of these kinds of public spats between ideologies.

What I think these outward-seeming patriots don’t quite get is what the American flag actually stands for, or what the Bill of Rights actually means.  They have been listening to the Donald Trumps and Rush Limbaughs and Bill O’Reillys of the world for so long, they forgot what these things stand for.  The American flag is not a symbol meant specifically to honor the military or war, although it is used in those applications.  The Flag is a representation of the unity of the country.  It is a symbol that represents us, ALL of us, in all our glorious diversity and weirdness.  And the Bill of Rights was designed to protect us from government excesses, not from opinions we don’t like.  The First Amendment is one they especially don’t seem to get, so I quote it here in its entirety:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.[1]

This means that the government cannot stop you from praying any way you want, nor can it demand you follow any set of religious beliefs.  It cannot stop the press from printing any news, specifically any news that may be critical of the government.  It cannot stop anyone from peacefully protesting for or against something they believe in, and it cannot stop citizens from going directly to the government to complain.  It’s the peacefully protesting one that applies to Colin Kaepernick’s (you thought I forgot about him, didn’t you) decision not to stand during the National Anthem because he believes that the United States has a problem with racism and racial oppression.

What Kaepernick is doing is not illegal.  It is not even against any NFL or team regulations.  There is no requirement anywhere that people stand up and salute the Flag during the playing of the National Anthem at any time under any circumstances.  To do so would kind of go against the freedom to protest.  More importantly, Kaepernick is not being obnoxious about it.  He’s not demanding his teammates do the same thing, or even agree with him.  He’s not booing or hissing or otherwise disrupting the National Anthem.  He’s not throwing things at anyone.  He is, and please notice the wording here, peacefully protesting.  He is exercising his First Amendment rights.

Now anyone who disagrees with him has the equal right to say so; many have done just that.  And almost all his superiors and peers have said they might disagree with his method of protest, but they respect his right to do it.  But anyone who says Kaepernick is un-American or that he ought to leave the country is kind of missing the point.  He is being about as patriotic as you can be.  He just isn’t wrapping himself in the American flag to do it.  And that’s what’s got all these über patriotic conservative types in such a tizzy.  He refuses to salute the flag.  You can’t be patriotic if you don’t worship a piece of cloth in their minds.  You can’t support American values and rights if you don’t do it in the red, white, and blue.  Except for the part where you can.

I’ve said many times that true patriotism has nothing to do with how many flags you fly or how often you claim to love your country.  It has nothing to do with waving at veterans during a parade, or paying for their hamburgers at a McDonald’s (although that’s a cool thing to do for anyone).  True patriotism is educating yourself on the issues and voting your conscience.  Patriotism is paying your taxes so that the police departments and fire departments and public schools and libraries and utilities can all keep functioning.  Patriotism is going to jury duty when you get called.  Patriotism is protesting (peacefully) when you think something is wrong.  Patriotism is writing to your elected representatives when you think they need to do something.  You wanna be a patriot?  Then fold up your flag, roll up your sleeves, and get your ass out there.  And shut up about anyone else who stands up for something they believe in.  Or in this case, sits down.

Repost with Additions: 4th of July

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I suppose there’s some line of thinking out there, somewhere, that dictates I post a patriotic song today.  But I think most patriotic songs are crap, with the notable exceptions of “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”.  (Special note:  “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” was based on the music to “John Brown’s Body” but the lyrics were changed by Julia Ward Howe to be a little more generic–and palatable to those who felt John Brown was an insane vigilante.)  So my Fourth of July songs are a little less didactic.

Today is not my favorite holiday.  Not that I’m not patriotic or anything.  I vote, pay my taxes, and don’t avoid jury duty.  I educate myself about politics.  I’ve read the Constitution (I wonder how many of those knee-jerk reactionaries can say that).  But any holiday in which people think it’s okay to mix alcohol and explosives is not a good one in my eyes.

There’s a couple of really good songs titled “4th of July,” although neither one is about the day.  Both are about relationships in tatters, people who have been blown up by their own emotional fireworks.  The more famous one is by X.  It features John Doe and Exene Cervenka at their best, Doe on the lead and Cervenka carrying the emotional counterpoint on the chorus.  A couple so far away from the world, so wrapped up in their own misery that they forgot what day it was.  “She’s waiting for me when I get home from work, oh but things just ain’t the same.  She turns out the lights and cries in the dark, and she won’t answer when I call her name.”  She’s depressed, he doesn’t know how to handle it.  Neither one of them knows how to walk away.

I might be a little more partial to Aimee Mann’s song of the same title.  It’s similar in that it’s about the sadness of a relationship that’s imploded on itself.  But Mann’s song is sung from the perspective of a woman left behind, steeping herself in her past, knowing “I ought to have gotten it gone.”  She can’t even confront the man who haunts her.  She just stares out the window, looking at fireworks, thinking “what a waste of gunpowder and sky.”  I can really identify with this character.  She fantasizes about her lover looking back with regret, something I’ve done more than once about exes.  “Oh, baby, I wonder if when you are older, someday, you’ll wake up and say ‘My god I should have told her!  What would it take?  But now here I am and the world’s gotten colder, and she’s got the river down which I sold her’.”

Both songs are about stagnation.  I feel a little bit that they could be about the same relationship, just from different perspectives at different points in time.  (They’re not even remotely related, obviously; I don’t even know if Mann ever heard the X song, which precedes hers by about six years.)  It’s interesting to imagine the guy in the X song finally getting the strength to pull himself out of the morass, but he leaves her behind to relive their past over and over every July 4th.  Songs tell stories, and sometimes those stories mesh.  Maybe there’s something about the 4th that makes a lot of people reflect on more than just America’s birthday.  Maybe all the fireworks set off more than just sparks in the sky.  I like the possibility of this narrative.  Of course, it needs a third part, one where the woman gets out of her emotional trap and maybe even gets some resolution from the man.  Maybe something like this.

Martina McBride’s song was originally suggested to me in a comment by the lovely Kina.  It’s not quite part of the narrative created by the other two, but it is a wonderful song about ending the terrible cycle of pain and abuse some relationships sink into.  In an ideal world, the woman in the song wouldn’t have been forced to resort to arson, murder, and suicide to escape.  But our world isn’t really ideal, in spite of the Founding Fathers’ hopes and dreams.  We live in an imperfect country, run by imperfect people who sometimes get things wrong.  That’s okay.  It doesn’t make the great experiment that is the United States any less valid.  We are a work in progress, getting closer to the ideal of liberty and justice for all every day.

Happy 4th to everyone here in the U.S.  Here’s hoping your pets survive the fireworks.