Pensees on Patriotism
By Paul J Cella Posted in Culture | mud | patriotism — Comments (14) / Email this page » / Leave a comment »
Unfortunately, I don’t have time enough right now to give these thoughts the treatment I think they deserve. The importunate urgency in our age is very strong: it militates against my inclination to let them marinate for awhile, in the hopes that a structured essay may issue from the marinade.
In short, I’m going to just throw these two thoughts out there, and affix a French word to the title to make them look grand and important.
(1) I wonder if there is a lesson in the Rev. Wright contretemps for our dear Creedal Patriots. Now Creedal Patriots, to review, are those given to stressing the idealism and nobility of the American creed as the ground of American patriotism. Against them in solemn but fraternal dispute stand those (like me) whose judgment it is that these creedal aspects of American patriotism have been exaggerated to our detriment.
Did you notice the method by which Senator Obama sought to dodge the blow aimed for him with the appearance of all those sermon tapes — tapes which, mind you, implicated him in a preacher who teaches the bloodguilt of America? Did you catch the particular form of his sophistry?
Senator Obama’s pastor for many years urged that, in justice, America ought to be thrown down like any common despotism. When some wicked men attempted this foul work, he spoke of chickens coming home to roost. But there is, according to him, nothing common about America’s sins. They are so egregious as to render loyalty impossible. His indictment is a staggering document, discursive too be sure, but hardly obscure in implication. God damn America. Her guilt is indelible. Her judgment is coming, and no avenue of redemption is open to her.
There is some reassurance in the fact that, whatever else Senator Obama’s speech did, it certainly presented an avenue of redemption. He denied that the guilt is indelible. He spoke movingly of the possibility that America may indeed better approximate that more perfect union spoken of in the Preamble to the Constitution. “The profound mistake of Reverend Wright's sermons,” Obama told us, was that, alas, “he spoke as if our society was static, as if no progress has been made.” Ah yes: our old friend Progress. Loyalty to America becomes loyalty to her progress toward proffered goals.
In fine Obama is a Creedalist in his patriotism; and he may have (we cannot yet know) evaded a crippling political blow by means of the vulnerabilities of this theory. Put another way, Obama managed to escape the fact that he and his family have sat under the teaching authority of an openly anti-American preacher, by means of an appeal to the ideals of America.
My question for the Creedal Patriots is this: If your doctrine can be employed to inoculate against even rank anti-Americanism, might there not be some flaws in it meriting attention? If a politician can appeal to American ideals in order to cover up even this, a brazen repudiation of patriotism, how secure can this theory of patriotism be?
(2) Now and then, in the course of this debate (which I do hope will remain fraternal and fruitful), someone arguing against non-creedal patriots like myself will deliver themselves of a certain type of sneer or dismissal. One prominent columnist, in a moment of weakness, put is thusly: “When you say you love America, you’re not saying our mud is better than the other guy’s mud.”
But as a pulverizing fact, in the great bulk of our patriotic songs we are saying something very much like that — though not with the note of supremacy indicated by “better than.” To declare one’s love of a thing is not, in point of fact, to assert its supremacy over similar things. But we do indeed sing of the beauty of our land — our mud, even. We do profess love for land qua land — especially such land as now holds the remains of our fathers.
I walked out of the house yesterday afternoon into the exhilarating warmth and brilliance of the April sun, peaking through the drab gray of clouds that had hung around for days. It was my fortune to have gotten the children down for naps in time to enjoy this moment, cold beer in hand, in my front yard. I looked around — at the Japanese maple which just a few days ago was barren but now boasted a coat of maroon leaves, at the carpet of colorful flowers, courtesy of the pavilion of weeds and wild grasses that I call a lawn, at the emerging plumage of the oaks behind my house, greening by the moment — I looked at all this and I thought, “By God I do love this mud.” There was an edge of defiance in it.