I want to thank my reader Bob Rossi for sending me this letter to the editor, which was from the Portland (Maine) Press Herald newspaper. Boiled down to its essence, it’s a rightwing attack on the Left’s alleged hostility to “patriotism” and “American exceptionalism,” couched in pro-Trump hyperbole and a characterization of liberals so clearly phony, it can only be deliberate.
Bob had sent it to me because in Tuesday’s post I wrote that “there’s something patriotic about what I do” (i.e., writing this blog), and I do consider myself a patriot. But as we all know, one of the ongoing accusations against the Left—against people like me—is that we hate America, we’re not patriots; and taken to its ridiculous extreme (which the tea party and Trump supporters are wont to do), this results in them calling us “Communists” or whatever other nasty epithet occurs to them.
I could here quote Dr. Johnson: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel,” but I won’t, because I don’t entirely agree. Patriotism is defined as “vigorous support for one’s own country,” and there’s nothing wrong with that. There is, however, something dreadfully wrong when rightwingers claim exclusive ownership of patriotism, with the concomitant imputation that anyone who isn’t a rightwinger must hate America. This is the sort of reductionism that Trump, who always needs an enemy to rail against, specializes in.
The letter writer in the Portland newspaper, someone named Charles Todorich, creates a false dichotomy: you can either be a patriot (defined by him, of course) or you can hate America. There’s no in between. Now, this is complete rubbish, as I’m sure even Mr. Todorich would concede, were he to engage in a reasonable conversation, instead of indulging in letter-writing umbrage. Take me, for example. I don’t “hate America,” and I do consider myself a patriot. I even believe in the concept of “American exceptionalism,” to a degree: I mean, Americans did write the greatest Constitution in the history of the world, and for the better part of two centuries, America has symbolized justice, freedom, progress and human potential, here and across the world. It’s why my four grandparents emigrated here from Russia. I am proud of my country.
But it’s clear that Donald J. Trump is eroding that heritage, if in fact he hasn’t already destroyed it. And if you compare America with other countries in terms of things like wealth, healthcare, life expectancy and optimism, we’re not always number one. Trumpism is quickly eroding whatever glorious reputation America has enjoyed around the world.
So I’m no longer sure what American exceptionalism means. Does it mean a “Christian” country? Does it mean a country in which science is suspect? Does it mean a country where white people (mainly men) fight unscrupulously to preserve their hold on power? Does it mean a country where secret billionaires control the legislature through shady means? Does it mean a country where the hard-gotten gains of minorities are constantly under assault? Does it mean a country where the free press is under assault from the right? I’m afraid that, in all these cases, the answer is “Yes.”
Mr. Todorich’s letter encapsulates all these regressive tendencies. I don’t mind that he insults “take-a-knee” football players. Reasonable people can disagree about Kaepernick. But I do mind when he hauls out a Trump quote that’s absurd on its face: “When you open your heart to patriotism, there is no room for prejudice.” Wow, what utter B.S. The most vocally ardent “patriots” in my lifetime have been white Republican rightwingers—the same crowd that was pro-segregation, that discriminated against gay people, that holds xenophobic views towards foreigners, that calls Islam evil, that subscribes to the old saying, “America: Love it or leave it,” the slogan of rightwingers going back to Joseph McCarthy. So, really, if you call yourself a “patriot,” according to Trump and Mr. Todorich, there’s “no room in your heart for prejudice”? Rightwing “patriots” are the most prejudiced bigots in America.
I yield to no one in my patriotism, and I don’t need a Republican rightwing extremist to tell me I hate America because I believe in human rights for all people. Someone ought to tell Mr. Todorich that he’s completely wrong. Well, I guess I just did.