President Trump’s first patriotic season is almost at hand

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As long-time readers of this blog might attest, patriotism is one of the subjects I most frequently deal with here. The reason is simple: Few issues are as fraught with emotion and hypocrisy, both of which are grist for my mill.

This year’s summer season of patriotic fervor will be the first since Donald Trump became our president. The situation in the White House makes us a more sharply divided people these days. It’ll be interesting to see how this disunity will effect popular measures of patriotism throughout the warm-weather season, especially on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.

An important to thing to remember in all of this is that we’re talking about what I call competitive patriotism. Many Americans, perhaps even most,  have a curious penchant for casting themselves or their groups as more patriotic than thou, as if love of country is a competition. My flag is bigger than yours. I get bigger goosebumps than you do when I hear the National Anthem. I love America more than you do.

Let’s hope that one or more of the major polling organizations commissions a scientific survey of the American public on prevailing attitudes regarding patriotism. Twelve years ago, Fox News sponsored just such a poll, and it showed that the numbers can shift rather quickly, depending on the flow of events. The number of people who thought their fellow Americans generally were more patriotic than in the past had declined by 12 percentage points from results of a similar poll conducted just a year earlier.

You see, that’s the thing about patriotism. Americans usually consider themselves pretty patriotic, but they often have doubts about their fellow citizens. It’s the competition factor. This sense of superior patriotism has long been more common among senior citizens than among younger folks. It was also far more common in the past eight years among people who were especially critical of the federal government or highly critical of President Obama. Republicans in general and Tea Party types in particular thought of themselves as more patriotic than most other people.

In 2012, when Republican Mitt Romney challenged Obama’s bid for a second term, he offered this bit of pseudo-patriotic gibberish. “I believe in an America where millions of Americans believe in an America that’s the America millions of Americans believe in. That’s the America I love.”

Patriotic competition this year likely will be more spirited than ever before with Donald Trump at the helm of the federal government. Ever the braggart and narcissist, The Donald might even declare that he’s a direct descendant of Betsy Ross.

This proclivity among some people to boast about their patriotism has always struck me as phony. I prefer American historian Maurice Garland Fulton’s definition: ‘True patriotism is quiet, simple, dignified; it is not blatant, verbose, vociferous.”

Another worthy definition came from Adlai Stevenson II, the former governor of Illinois,  in a speech of 65 years ago at an American Legion convention:

“We talk a great deal about patriotism. What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility which will enable America to remain master of her power, to walk with it in serenity and wisdom, with self-respect and the respect of all mankind, a patriotism that puts country ahead of self, a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.


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