Have We Forgotten How To Be True Patriots?

I took THE TRUE PATRIOT by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer on a four-hour cross-country flight and as it turned out, played right into the authors hands. The book is small (literally, only 5”x7”) and only 130 pages. The authors refer to it as a pamphlet, but, since it is hard bound, in my mind that makes it a book.The True Patriot

My normal procedure for a long flight is to have a couple of books on hand to read, but due to a fast grab of quickly diminishing over head luggage space, I wound up with just this one very small book and the in-flight magazine as my reading material for four, long, seemingly endless hours.

A situation, that for a self-confessed bibliophile, is somewhat akin to a slow death by torture.

In the first hour and a half, I read the book, thumbed through the in-flight magazine (I’m not much of a shopper), tried to nap, had a snack and then found myself reaching for that little red book again. In the opening chapter, the authors confess to being Progressives and Democrats. I forgave them. In the final chapter, they state:

“Our larger goal is to ignite a national conversation about patriotism and public morality. The title of this work –True Patriot– is purposely provocative and judgmental…”

I looked to my row mates, they are reading, reading, sleeping, on laptop, sleeping … none looking conversationally inclined, and particularly not with a complete stranger on something provocative and judgmental. I eyed the cover of the in-flight magazine, then returned to the little red book.

I plumbed the depths of excerpted speeches and writings from likes of JFK, RFK, MLK , FDR (as well as a lonely sentence from Susan B. Anthony and Jane Addams). I studied the collection of pictures and images, all historic and symbolic, calling cards for American patriotism – Washington crossing the Delaware, Lady Liberty, the Declaration of Independence…

“… a politics of purpose — should address wants, fears and yearnings that are about the most primordial choices humans make — and it should tip the scales in every choice from selfishness toward social good.”

Okay, I’m thinking. Not exactly my words, but yes.

“America doesn’t need a new politics, it simply needs to reconnect with its original patriotic traditions … grounded in civic virtue, in the simple precept of country above self. They rest on a notion of public morality…“

Yes. Okay, but… I’m always uncomfortable discussing virtue and morality in such a broad way. Consensus means little if we allow the pesky reality of daily life undermine it at every turn… And country above self — yes!  And, no.

Yes, a responsiblity and commitment to the good of our fellow-man, community and planet.  No, to blind obedience and allegiances.

“The only thing in America that trumps freedom talk is patriotism…while common-good rhetoric is necessary, it is not sufficient…Pound for pound, an appeal to pride is more powerful than the idea of sharing.“

What?? No. Enough with all this patriotism already.

Patriotism speaks of allegiance. And while allegiance is important, it is not what is lacking in Americans today and it certainly doesn’t seem in crisis. Even recognizing that we are in a very different place today then we were in 2007 when the book was published.

What we need today is to reconnect our common bonds as Americans. We need to find our Americanism. The only thing that both trumps freedom and patriotism is Americanism. The only thing more powerful for Americans, than appeal to pride or the ideal of sharing, is our pride in our shared ideals — as Americans.

We need to reawaken our Americanism.

I gave a self-congratulatory bob of my head, having won that round handily, but reading, sleeping, sleeping, on laptops, and snoring, were unimpressed. In fact, I’m pretty sure they could not have cared less. Undeterred, I rolled up my mental sleeves.

“America was founded in freedom – freedom to speak, to worship, to choose whatever path to happiness suits us best — but that with freedom comes an equal responsibility to country, community and family.”

Yes. Even a hardy, yes.

“True patriots believe that freedom from responsibility is selfishness, freedom from sacrifice is cowardice, freedom from tolerance is prejudice, freedom from stewardship is exploitation, and freedom from compassion is cruelty.”

I’d definitely go along with that, but there’s that “true patriots” again. How about just saying Americans. We are Americans. You’re not talking about European patriots after all.

“… true patriotism is earned pride: It means appreciating not only what is great about our country but also what it takes to create and sustain greatness.”

Yes. And we seemed to have forgotten about things like striving and sweat equity. It’s not just a business requirement.

“…liberty is not just the removal of tyranny or encumbrance; it is the cultivation of a freedom worth having — and this requires common endeavor and shared sacrifice.”


“The American way is always to be searching for a better way; to question constantly whether we are living up to our ideals and whether ideology is distorting our vision. At the heart of this is a commitment to a process: a faith that in a land of so many factions, relentlessly fair and pragmatic inquiry will bring us closer to truth.”

Oh boy, we are not even close. I mean yes, I agree, but we Americans have wander so far away from this ideal we could be in another planet. Or galaxy even.

“a commitment to a process… relentlessly fair and pragmatic inquiry will bring us closer to truth.”

Or maybe it was only a dream. A lovely, happy dream; a long time ago.

“We believe that policy flows from principles, which are rooted in values…any meaningful discussion of policy should begin with–and be organized around–principles.”

At the end of THE TRUE PATRIOT, the authors presented their Ten-Principle Plan:

American Exceptionalism
Responsibility for the common good
Equality of opportunity
Patriotic capitalism
Mutual obligation
Service to country
Common sense virtue
Tolerance and common cause

Well … I still think Americanism trumps patriotism. Those ideals and values the founding fathers strived to put in place and what so many American have worked to keep, and fought and died to protect for us–it’s more than patriotism. So I compiling my own list. But I’m not sharing. Because reading, sleeping, on laptop, on laptop, and snoring, never showed me their lists either and I’m not going to be the only one doing all the heavy lifting.

Okay… I’ll show my list, but only if you show me your list.

[Cross posted at No Quarter]



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