I was reminded of this after observing the Republican National Convention last week. On display was a national party trying to win a national election, but without an appeal to anybody but rich, white people: no appeal to black people or brown people or other racial or religious minorities – or even to women; no appeal to the future, only a wistful look backwards. They were patriotically humming the tune of an American creed abridged too far.
As it was truly said by Samuel Johnson (7 April 1775), “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” so it can be said that humming the tune of the American creed is no substitute for living by the lyrics. Just tell that to any number of Tea Party candidates. Or, better yet, let me: You didn’t build that. We did. And you don’t get to define it. We do.
What makes the American creed better than a religious one is that, rather than being handed to us by a skygod, we developed it with our humanity, based on the Enlightenment ideals of our Founders. And, far from being written on stone tablets, we’re constantly testing and improving this creed. And as Americans, if we’re in touch with what Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature,” we’d rather be welcoming converts than chasing out heretics. We’d rather be serving mankind than serving Mammon.
Some of us “pass” as patriotic Americans, yet spout unpatriotic, if not idiotic, ideas, as if it’s OK to pay lip service to the laws and reverence some “Creator,” rather than the other way around; as if some Americans believe our Constitution was handed to us by some god, rather being wrought by the reason of men. They seem to be confused as to what’s not OK for an American; that is, what’s un-American.
It is not OK to condemn poor people rather than condemning poverty: that’s un-American.
It is not OK to condemn racial minorities rather than condemning racism: that’s un-American.
It’s not OK to say you respect women but to deny women basic reproductive health care: that’s un-American.
It’s not OK to laud the genius of our Founders but to ban the teaching of critical thinking skills (“Knowledge-Based Education”): that’s un-American.
It’s not OK to say you support education but to forbid schools from teaching facts (“Controversial Theories,” i.e., human evolution): that’s un-American.
It’s not OK to say you believe in free speech but to shut it down when it makes you uncomfortable: that’s un-American.
It’s not OK to praise our legal system but to condemn it when it doesn’t reach a judgment you like: that’s un-American.
It’s not OK to force the people’s privacy into the sunshine while operating the levers of government in the shadows: that’s un-American.
It’s not OK to say America is the land of opportunity but to deny opportunity to those who need it most: that’s un-American.
It’s not OK to say America is the most generous of nations, then to deny that generosity to those who need it most, while granting that largess to those who need it least: that’s un-American.
It’s not OK for those of us who were born on third base to believe we hit a triple, when most of us are still waiting for an at-bat. It’s not OK to think you made it to the top on your own and then have the audacity to pull up the ladder of success behind you. That’s really un-American.
Robert G. Ingersoll was an American. He once said, “He loves his country best who strives to make it best.” But he was an atheist: what could he know? Simply this: that there is too much “In God We Trust” in America and not enough “E Pluribus Unum.” If you want to know the difference between patriotic and idiotic, know this: It’s not OK to say you love America but to hate everything American government does. It’s not OK to stand for freedom and liberty for some. That’s un-American. What’s truly American? Freedom and liberty for all. That’s a creed we can believe in because we built that.
The preceding was a commentary in an ongoing series of “Reflections” by John Mill. John Mill is the radio persona of Ronald Bruce Meyer and can be heard on “American Heathen.” “The American Heathen” Internet radio broadcast is aired, live, on Saturday nights from 7:00pm-10:00pm Central Time (8-11pm Eastern Time) on ShockNetRadio.com. Copyright © 2012 Ronald Bruce Meyer.
Copyright © 2012 Ronald Bruce Meyer. To hear an audio version of this Reflection, click on this link: Patriotic and Idiotic.
Paine wrote, “the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world” and that “religious duties consist in doing justice, loving mercy, and endeavoring to make our fellow-creatures happy.”