The Rebranding Of The United States Of America.

The Revolutionary War was not only a response to tyranny. It was a reaction to Great Britain’s militarization of the colonies. That’s why the Founders were opposed to a standing army. Indeed, that was why the 2nd Amendment tied the right to bear arms to a “well-regulated militia.” But, over time, our population has embraced militarism to a degree that would almost certainly make the Founders shudder.

It is this militarization that has caused the US to be at war all but 13 years of our nation’s 243-year existence. Want to expand our territory? Take the lands from Native Americans. Want to control Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam and the Philippines? Race to a war with Spain over false pretenses. Want to annex the American Southwest? Gin up a war with Mexico. Want to open trade with China? Attack the weakened dynasty. Want to give our corporations access to an endless supply of bananas? Send our troops into Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Haiti and Nicaragua. Want a shorter path from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific coast? Threaten war with Colombia which controlled Panama. Want to protect our corporations’ access to the natural resources of Southeast Asia? Send military “advisors” into the region. Want to control Middle Eastern oil and establish a military base in the region? Send our troops into Kuwait and Iraq.

Despite an already long, sad history of bullying, what may have launched the militarization of the US was the poetic tribute of Francis Scott Key to our battle flag during the attack on Fort McHenry. Since then, the “bombs bursting in air” imagery has been taken far too literally. And it really ramped up during the age of television following WWII. That’s when the networks discovered they could cheaply fill time with movies celebrating the military heroism of our soldiers in Europe and Asia along with cartoons that vilified Germans, Italians and Japanese.

Since then, militarism has often been confused for patriotism.

Indeed, it seems each year we celebrate militarism more than peace and freedom. Military flyovers begin each major sporting event. The National Anthem precedes every major event and many minor ones. And, more recently, the flag has been co-opted by those who seem to fail to understand and appreciate its true meaning. Witness Trump’s show of literally embracing the flag.

The effect has been devastating. The symbol of America has been rebranded. Once revered internationally as a symbol of freedom and good, more and more, the stars and stripes has come to represent a threat, racism, an inflexible and unforgiving form of religion, and a political party led by a bully.

Never has that been more apparent than during the July 4th Trumpalooza in Washington, DC. An event intended to celebrate our freedom from tyranny was turned into a political display of our military might. VIP tickets were given only to donors and supporters by the RNC. There were tanks and other military hardware on display and there were flyovers by our latest and greatest war machines.

The event cost millions. For what purpose? To appease the current occupant of the White House; to make him feel as powerful as the dictators and strong men he so admires; to jumpstart his re-election campaign. It wasn’t a celebration of our nation’s founding so much as an opportunity for Trump to use the military and our flag as a brand that he can sell to multinational corporations, military contractors, evangelicals and racists.

Instead of celebrating our Dear Leader and his favorite weapons of war, we would be better advised to consider the wise words of Benjamin Berell Ferencz, the last living prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials: “War makes murderers out of otherwise decent people. All wars. And all decent people.”

What Is Patriotism?

On this Independence Day weekend, published a map showing the most and the least patriotic states in America. I might not have paid it any heed except for the fact that it ranked my former state of Minnesota at #49. The criteria used included the number of National Historic Landmarks per capita (WTF?), the number of veterans per capita, money spent to fund veterans, percentage of residents who voted in the last presidential election, people who use Google to buy American flags (double WTF?) and people who list America as an interest on Facebook (triple WTF?).

Obviously, the realtors who constructed the map have no clue of the true meaning of patriotism.

My ancestors fought in all of America’s wars going back to the Revolution. Many could be considered war heroes. Yet there were no showy displays of flags. They paid tribute to other veterans and to the nation, but to my knowledge, they never received nor expected special treatment for their own courage. Most were also religious, but they never made a show of their faith nor tried to force their beliefs onto others.

In short, they were true patriots.

All of this reminds me of an essay contest I was asked to judge a few years ago. It consisted of judging essays on patriotism written by a middle school class. Despite the many grammatical errors and spelling errors, the worst aspect of the competition was the fact that the children seemed to equate patriotism with flag-waving and our military might. The essays focused on war…on defending our freedom from outside interests. But there was no mention of defending our freedom from those inside our nation who would try to take away our rights. There was no mention of devotion to our nation, its principles and its Constitution. There was no mention of our responsibility to vote; to pay our fair share of taxes; to conserve our nation’s beauty; to conserve our environment. No mention of ensuring equal rights for all of our citizens.

Knowing then what I know now, I shouldn’t have been surprised. On’s list, Arizona ranked #10 for patriotism. But, in my view, what passes for patriotism in Arizona today is far too much about show…displaying flags and military toys…than substance. By itself, a flag is just a few scraps of colored cloth. It’s what the flag stands for that is really important. Unfortunately, that fact is lost on far too many people. Some of the people who wave the flag the most and shout USA the loudest disavow our federal government. Some would deny others the right to vote, the right to control their own body and the right to marry whom they love. Some destroy signs of their political opponents. Some vandalize property of those who display election materials for the “wrong” candidates. Some shout angry epithets at members of other political parties. Some threaten and bully those who display political stickers with which they disagree. Some carry the Gadsen flag and openly carry guns in order to intimidate their fellow citizens. Some fly the battle flag of the Confederacy and make racist threats. Some cheat or refuse to pay taxes in order to deny funding for the government. All the while, like most of the South, the State of Arizona receives far more in federal funds than it pays in taxes.

Minnesota, on the other hand…the state that ranked #49 in patriotism on’s list…leads the nation in voting. It pays a far larger share of income taxes than it receives in federal funding. Indeed, Minnesotans create a disproportionate number of jobs nationally and pay a disproportionate amount in taxes. Minnesotans played a key role for the North in the Civil War. On the other hand, the state that was ranked most patriotic by is South Carolona…the first state to secede from the Union and to declare war on the United States.

Now tell me, which state is really more patriotic?

A Divided Nation.

I began this blog several years ago with a post “Why We’re Divided.” The point was that our political divide is not merely the result of differing ideologies. It’s the result of differing “facts.”

Never has that been more clearly demonstrated than by two competing advertising campaigns running on this Independence Day. In my state’s largest newspaper, there is an ad bearing the headline “In God We Trust.” Paid for by a company that is owned by a religious zealot, the ad uses a variety of quotes from our Founding Fathers to support the claim that our nation was founded on Christianity.

A few pages later, there is an ad bearing the headline “Celebrate Our Godless Constitution.” Paid for by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, it, too, uses a variety of quotes from our Founding Fathers to support the claim that our nation was built on the principle of separation of Church and State.

This is a classic example of proof-texting – selectively choosing quotes that support a particular point of view. This technique is often used by the religious to justify actions or beliefs. Religious leaders use verses from the Bible to justify war, to rationalize genocide, to discriminate against gays and others, to ignore – indeed blame – the poor for struggling as the result of policies they didn’t create, etc.

No matter how ugly your point of view, you can find a verse in the Bible, the Torah or the Qur’an to justify an action or inaction.

The same is true when it comes to quotes by our Founding Fathers. As Michael Austin writes in his book That’s Not What They Meant! Reclaiming the Founding Fathers from America’s Right Wing, the Founders were so diverse, you can find a quote from one of them to support almost any point of view. Among the Founders were Protestants, Catholics, Quakers, Jews, Deists, Agnostics and Atheists. There were idealists and slave owners. There were farmers, plantation owners, printers, attorneys, inventors, ship owners and many others.

There were Founders in favor of a strong central government and those who believed the power should reside exclusively with the states.

So which ad is correct? Both of them. And neither of them.

Thomas Jefferson, who wrote the Declaration of Independence, and James Madison, who authored our Constitution’s Bill of Rights, strongly believed in separation of Church and State. The majority at the Constitutional Convention agreed. However, many of the Founders spoke of “divine providence” and the “principles of Christianity.”

More important, the ads demonstrate the growing divide between Americans; between the Federalists and those who believe in states’ rights; between the devoutly religious and the agnostics; between science and religion; between those who trust government and those who despise it; between the wealthy and the poor; between red and blue; between black, brown, red and white; between the educated and the uneducated; and between those who believe the US is the greatest nation on Earth and those who recognize its faults and intend to change them.

I think it no exaggeration to write that our nation is at a crossroads, more divided than at any time since the Civil War. Independence Day is the perfect time to consider the consequences of such a divide. Committing to compromise and finding common ground are imperative to the future of our nation.