July 4, American Independence Day, always brings me up against how unmoved I am by most calls for patriotism. I have lived too long and paid too much attention to not be skeptical, skeptical nearly to the point of cynicism, about any exhortation to love my country and honor America and salute the flag and support our troops. In the summer of 2019, the only thing that makes me proud to be an American is the US women’s soccer team playing for the World Cup. Seriously. That’s damned near it.
Maybe I'm just not tribal. As each year passes, I have less interest in affiliations and allegiance and tribal rites and seeking the company of others in my tribe, or tribes. And it doesn't help that I have more disdain for obedience than ever in my life.
A nation-state is a contrivance, developed over centuries in pursuit of greater security for its citizens, at least some of them, the fortunate ones with power or agency or the right genetic traits. The prime directive is to make life safer for People Like Us. It's not enough simply to be PLU by birth. Now and again, and again and again and again, we're expected to engage in public demonstration that we're PLU. We hear this from those who want us to obey, who profit from our obedience, and from the cowed masses who prefer not to think too deeply about any of it, who are scared and yearn for "leaders" rather than leading themselves. There is no drearier prospect than the desire for a leader.
What does being proud of the nation-state that calls itself the United States? In 2019, that requires me to be proud of the global citizen that refuses to help remedy or even acknowledge climate change, that has turned its back on friends and allies while embracing punks and thugs from Pyongyang to Manila to Brasilia to Budapest to Ankara to Moscow. Really? You think I'm falling in line with that? It means looking away from the thousands and thousands of people we have killed in one pointless, unjustifiable, and illegal war after another. Those wars have been prosecuted in our name, "to protect our freedom," on behalf of People Like Us. Am I supposed to swell with pride at what we are doing on our southern border, at the daily cruelty perpetrated on people guilty of hoping they could improve, even save, their lives and their children's lives if only they reached the States? (Your fault, suckers, for believing what's written on the Statue of Liberty. That statement is no longer operative.)
I could belabor this with a longer list of actions that have ruined our standing with much of the world, and I’m tempted to because I've worked up some steam here. And then I could start a second inventory of all the crimes we commit daily against ourselves, against our own citizens, especially the ones who have the misfortune not to be People Like Us. But you’ve heard all of that already from a thousand other disaffected voices, and it's all starting to feel pointless.
You may well be thinking that’s not our fault, not our doing, that’s those assholes in Washington, that’s Trump, Mister-Make-1950-Great-Again, the US Petulant, the Idiot-in-Chief, and his henchmen and bootlickers and profiteering cronies—that’s not us! Yeah, well, 62,984,828 of us voted for this grifter and pathetic tough-guy wannabe, and according to the United States Elections Project 94,231,192 eligible voters did not cast a ballot at all. Never mind that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote—157,216,020 is a lot of us right there. That’s a lot of people to disavow and anyway, not only did 62,984,828 vote for Trump in 2016 but for decades we’ve been electing politicians at all levels who don’t give a rat’s ass for all that’s supposed to fill me with patriotic pride every Fourth of July. You expect me to abide by that? Hold my drink while I call a cab.
Did Samuel Johnson really say that patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels? I don’t know if he said it first, but whoever said it was right. Much of what douses any ember of patriotism in me is that the worst among us make the biggest show of it. They are the quickest to use my-country-right-or-wrong as a cudgel against everyone they don’t like, anyone they don’t approve of, anyone not PLU, and all those whose mere existence sticks a fork in their complacency. The same scoundrels, to use Mr. Johnson’s quaint term, who have no qualms about cynically manipulating patriotic fervor to fleece and manipulate a poorly read, badly educated, fear-addled, superstitious populace that can think of no better response to the world’s challenges than falling into formation, saluting the flag, closing the borders, and loading the trusty AR-15.
There are days when I watch it all, and it breaks my heart. So maybe I’m more of a patriot than I thought.
And I do hope the US women win the World Cup. On Sunday I’ll wave a flag to Pinoe, Alex, Rose, Carli, and the rest of those fierce and fearless women who exemplify, in so many ways, what I hope our best qualities are as a people. Forget People Like Us, I aspire to be People Like Them. Anybody else who wants to tell me how to be a real American should take a moment and ponder who they're serving, and then kiss my ass.