Cheap Patriotism

Out of the tragic events of 9/11 have come some good effects for our nation as a whole. Perhaps we have come to see each other in a more compassionate light. Perhaps in the days immediately following the cowardly terrorist acts, we saw a rebirth of good old-fashioned neighbor helping neighbor. Perhaps our rampant individualism was checked, at least for a time, by a deeper sense of community. And perhaps some of these benefits will have more than a temporary effect. If indeed we have come to see our fellow Americans as our neighbors again, and not simply as people who live in proximity to us, then some lasting good will come from these tragedies.

Something else that has emerged from 9/11 has been a renewed sense of patriotism. I welcome this. During a recent trip down south, I couldn’t help noticing, as I drove along, just how prevalent American flags had become. It seemed as though every car that passed had a flag on the antenna or a patriotic message affixed to the rear bumper. It made me feel good to see Old Glory displayed so freely; I had done my part, purchasing a small bumper sticker myself some weeks earlier. I even saw flags flying from the top of billboards advertising adult bookstores! I’ll admit that the thought crossed my mind to turn my car around and yank our national symbol off of the sign advertising the “Adult Café”; it didn’t seem right being festooned on the billboard of such an establishment. I decided against it; I guess perverts can be patriotic too, I thought.

But here’s my question: how deep do these patriotic sentiments really run? Sure, we’ll fly our flags, get a lump in our throats when we listen to our president, cheer on our boys as they fight the bad guys. But does this re-birth of patriotism portend anything deeper than a red-white-and-blue surge of emotion?

Due to the failure of our American educational system, we have raised a generation of Americans whose ignorance of our American history and system of government is appalling. In addition to our ignorance, our apathy can be measured by our lack of interest in taking part in those most basic of responsibilities in a free society, the responsibility to vote. Of course, it isn’t enough just to vote—an uninformed vote is more irresponsible than no vote at all. But a basic responsibility of a patriot is to care enough about the governance of our country that one would find out what the issues are which face our nation, and then vote for candidates who will legislate in accord with our beliefs and with constitutional constraints. I wonder, will the patriotic surge of 9/11 have any long-term effects upon our habits at the polls? Stop waving your flag at me if you don’t care enough to perform this basic, yet necessary, responsibility.

I wonder, will the tide of patriotism cause us to become better educated about our system of government, and about how far we have strayed from the intent of our founding fathers? Will people actually read the Constitution, or at least the Bill of Rights? The Tenth Amendment, for instance, is treated with disdain by Democrats and Republicans alike—will anyone stand up, as a patriot, and call the President’s hand because he signed off on the silly “airline security” bill, and because he regularly supports the dismantling of the Tenth Amendment? Will anyone stop waving the flag long enough to learn what the concept of “limited government” really means, and why then it is that our bloated federal government and brazenly power-hungry federal courts are so far out of line? Will anyone bother to contact a congressperson regarding pending legislation, demanding that the Constitution, treated with contempt by most in Congress and our Presidents past and present, be taken seriously again?

You see, it’s one thing for us to wax misty-eyed and get that lump in our throats when we hear “God Bless America”; it’s quite another to stand firmly for the principles upon which our republic was founded but which have largely been ignored for so long. It’s one thing to stick patriotic sayings on the bumpers of our cars; it’s quite another to seize upon our responsibilities and opportunities to live as patriotic Americans. To do anything less than taking an active role as an informed, concerned citizenry might yet constitute some form of patriotism, but it is certainly a “cheap patriotism” at best.

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