Monday, February 23, 2015

Love Of Country

I the late 70’s and early 80’s, in our earnest young evangelicals stage, Tracy and I learned a great deal about Christian-derived cults: Jehovah’s Witnesses, Worldwide Church of God (Armstrongism), Unity School, that sort of thing. One reference was Kingdom of the Cults, by Dr. Walter Martin. We may still have it on the bottom shelf.

Martin spent a lot of time with chapter-and-verse doctrinal questions, but he had a general insight that I have found useful on many fronts. Cults redefine terms, to make it sound like they are expressing traditional Christian ideas while introducing heterodox doctrines. There is a similar sentiment in CS Lewis, that we should beware speakers who use biblical references to mask modern ideas - William Jennings Bryan’s use of “Crucifying us on a Cross of Gold” when his goal was bimetallism, for example.  It is closely tied to use of cliches, which also rely on hitting emotional buttons while remaining uh, flexible, about content.

There has been a lot of fury unleashed at Rudy Giuliani for claiming that President Obama doesn’t love America. (Some of this has spilled over onto Scott Walker for not denouncing this as well.) Missing from the discussion is the reality that the two sides mean different things when they use phrases like “love America.” The fight is about whose definition shall prevail. This is similar to all the discussion around the book True Patriot, which I reviewed and discussed in 2009.   A Clinton speechwriter and an activist for educational, environmental, and income-equality causes got together to explain that real patriotism, as exemplified by true patriots, consists of wanting America to act in good ways, as they defined them. Patriotic displays were actually a negative indicator of real patriotism, as the people who go in for flag pins and yellow ribbons all think that is sufficient to be patriotic. (The authors would insist they said no such thing, yet they did, repeatedly.)

Barack Obama called George Bush unpatriotic, if you are looking for evidence of that point.  The statement is simply insane, or calculated evil, by the traditional meaning of the word.  One could logically claim that George Bush did many things which hurt the country or sent it in the wrong direction, or that his effects were worse than what a president who wasn’t patriotic might have done.  Such things occur throughout history in every country.  Sometimes it would have been better for their countries if some patriotic Greeks, or Japanese, or Americans had just stayed home and shut up.  Patriotism is not the highest of virtues, nor is its sibling, love-of-country. Yet it does have a meaning, and according to that meaning George Bush clearly fits the bill.

Identifying as a patriot has political value, so people want to have it both ways. That there may be some virtue they are not entitled to claim is too upsetting. I'm not sure what to make of the fact that no one seems to be making the positive case that Obama loves America.  I don't want to read into that that supporters don't have a positive case.  They may be making a calculated effort not to give credence to the idea by answering it. I can't help but notice it, though.

I would classify myself as moderately patriotic, but I hold a fair bit in reserve in favor of what I consider to be higher claims. Rudi Giuliani is more of a patriot than I am, Barack Obama less.  Rudi loves America warts and all, even while trying to change her.  Obama loves an America that might occur in the future, if it would only act in a certain way. This is usually referred to as living up to her own ideals. The former is patriotism.  The latter may be a superior, more moral sentiment, yet it is not love-of-country. The more strident type of liberal is usually quite clear about this, readily acknowledging that they don’t think patriotism is a good thing and love of country a dangerous precondition for refusing to acknowledge wrong. Michelle Obama gave voice to this when saying that she had not been proud of America until her husband was elected president. While actual patriots might find that infuriating, it’s not crazy in and of itself. We can all imagine a citizen of another country not being proud of it until it had finally stood up to an oppressor, or held free elections, or whatever.

President Obama’s comment early in his first term that he was proud of America in the same way that a Greek was proud of being a Greek illustrated dramatically that he simply does not know what meaning that has for other Americans.


Sam L. said...

You say cults redefine words and concepts for their purposes. So does the Left. Per Orwell, "NewSpeak".

I once had a conversation with a person I'd just met. He asked a question, and was surprised/startled/semi-horrified by my answer, at which I realized we had two different meanings to the word he'd used. I told him what it meant to me; he was relieved, and told me what he'd meant.

Grim said...

I used to think of myself as a patriot. I was pretty intense about it, even as late as 2009.

I wonder, now, if I love the same thing as anyone else. I wonder if there's ground to justify a common defense.

Texan99 said...

What I call patriotism is putting my country's welfare above my personal welfare. It's only indirectly related to approval of my country, and is especially far from uncritical approval of everything about my country.

I'm not particularly patriotic by this standard. I do approve of quite a few things about my country, though, and I think it would be fair to call me an American exceptionalist in the Reaganesque "city on a hill" vein.

Texan99 said...

I'm remembering a history teacher in junior or senior high school telling us about William Jennings Bryan and his spellbinding speeches, especially the "you shall not crucify mankind on a cross of gold" business. He just chortled, acknowledged how inspiring it was, and observed that it was complete hooey. He was prepared to talk to us about the pluses and minuses of expanding the money supply, but thought the crucifixion imagery was balderdash. That was the only history teacher who made an impression on me in public school: he had a finely developed sense of the ridiculous, and a passion for honest talk.

Grim said...

"What I call patriotism is putting my country's welfare above my personal welfare."

By that standard, I have been very patriotic. I wonder if it says anything that I feel less so, now. Maybe it just means I'm getting old, and they'll find another, younger, man to do what I used to do for them.

If so, all is well. That's how nations prosper. I wonder, though, if the basic bargain hasn't been undercut in a way that will prevent others from even wanting to do as we did once.

jaed said...

I may have told this story before.

When I break a bone or have some similar injury, I wake up in the morning with a distinct feeling of something being wrong, which puzzles me until I remember "Oh, I'm injured." In the days after the 9/11 attacks, I woke up with that same sensation. Something wrong somewhere, don't immediately know what. Then I'd remember what was wrong.

That might be called patriotism. If so, 9/11 turned me into a patriot. I considered being American to be a privilege before then. I admired many Americans. But I didn't feel that bone-deep identification that would make me react to an attack on my country in the way I would react to an injury to my own body.

Grim said...

I agree with that. Before 9/11, I really didn't think of America as something that could be broken or damaged. I wouldn't have thought of New York City as a place I'd mind to see destroyed -- it seemed as though it represented all the forces I didn't like about the nation (kind of like we sometimes joke about California floating off into the sea after an earthquake).

9/11 proved both of those background assumptions were wrong. America could be damaged, and I did care about New York City much more than I'd ever believed I would.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

jaed and grim, you may find my post on 9/11 written in 2006 interesting.

Dubbahdee said...

I'm pretty sure you will have no context for this...suffice it to say she is a crack republican political commentator attorney who has just been hired to work in a Democratic White House.

Dubbahdee said...

A good friend of mine defined the phenomenon of which you speak thusly:

Having the same vocabulary, but using a different dictionary.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Dave, I will absolutely guarantee that the writers of that show would never run that bit from the other side. The swelling background music is actually offensive.

It would have been humorous if so many people weren't influenced.

Dubbahdee said...

I think that the existence of Ainsley Hayes as a character was intended to do exactly that. She never gave an inch on her principles, and was always portrayed as one of the smartest people in the White House. And was always my favorite character by far. Just a delight to watch.

So, perhaps no individual soliloquy that I can point to -- just an entire character arc that gives somewhat gives the lie to your hypothetical assertion.

Certainly WW had a leftee POV. No bones about that.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Dunno about the character arc, but in this scene she's presented as "Person of character! Standing up for principles! Kicking evil conservatives in the balls!"

Dubbahdee said...

Of course you don't know about the character arc. I'm trying to work around your television deficiency as best as I can.

Interesting response though. I think your filter might be too fine.

I will grant you that her table mates were overplayed. I thought it when I first saw it, and I see it again here. They are cardboard cutouts. Straw men just set up for her to punch. And that is the greatest flaw of WW. It loves to be DIDACTIC in all caps. I just love, however, to watch the flair with which they do it. I have seldom been lectured with such wit.

So I read her little speech(and her character generally) as kicking assholes. Of either side. And yes, WW did present Democratic assholes. Of course, always to offer a foil for the real characters to make their point. wittily.

You can probably tell...I'm kind of a fan. Re-viewing it lately on netflix.

Texan99 said...

I enjoyed it, too. The scriptwriters didn't understand conservatives very well, which shows in her character, but they understood them about 1,000 times better than smug Hollywood scriptwriters did in practically every other TV show.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

Ben liked the series and said the same. I'm not one who can get past such things well. Not much in real life, either.