When I was in college at the height of the Vietnam War, I was considered an unpatriotic Commie for simply questioning U.S. military involvement in a land on the other side of the globe that had not attacked or threatened our nation. I was told, even by my parents, that it shouldnt matter to me; that I should be proud to fight for our flag no matter how I personally felt about our nations actions. Ironically, the only family members who seemed to understand my point of view were those who had served heroically in WWII.
Remembering that ugly period in our nations history (and in my life) recently caused me to look at todays political debate in a new way. I realized that there are many issues that separate liberals from conservatives education, taxes, greed, religion and the circumstances of our childhoods, to name a few. But the notion of so-called American Exceptionalism may be the most divisive of all of the issues that separate us.
Most often, those on the political right believe that patriotism can only be demonstrated by supporting our nations every action (of course, the exception is whenever a Democratic President is in office). They could care less about how our nation is viewed globally. They despise the United Nations. They take offense at criticism from other nations. And theyre even more angered by criticism from within. They believe Americas Founding Fathers were Christian saints, and that the Constitution was obviously created through divine providence.
On the other hand, those on the political left are more likely to think globally. We find it difficult to accept bullying, dishonesty and greed from our nation or any other. We despise poverty. We cherish education. We care about human rights. Were willing to admit when our nation and its corporations are wrong. Instead of being angered by criticism, we try to understand the opposing viewpoint and change our own if necessary. We believe that its the duty of a patriot to call attention to our nations errors; to speak truth to power. We understand that the Constitution is a living, breathing document that was flawed (given its denial of voting rights to women and African-Americans) and can be improved. And we believe the Founding Fathers were generous, caring, insightful and prophetic men. But we accept the fact that they were mortals nonetheless.
These contradictions, I believe, are at the very heart of most of our political disagreements. Unfortunately, these beliefs are so firmly entrenched, theres little we can do to change them. All we can do is to try to understand them and, as progressives, try to frame our arguments keeping these differences in mind.
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