In Part One, I suggested the relationship we have with our democracy mirrors our other romances -- with people.
This, (amid the wild throes of the 2016 Presidential courting season and an army of lurid candidates vying to seduce at every turn,) begs the eternal lovers' query:
What are we to each other, anyway?
Young infatuated patriots on a hot jingoist summer fling?
Or jaded Tinder swiping occupants-with-benefits, turned off by corrupt players and wounded from egotistical wars and weekly massacres...?
Maybe we're just recovering from marriage-industrial-complex hangovers -- taking a slow morning stroll through the new state of affairs, squinting at the sun, and reconsidering the institution with its more attractive rainbow profile page...
Do we have a shot at true love of country?
Perhaps to answer that, we have to locate what stage of passion our patriotism finds itself.
Stage One: The Naive Fantasy
(Ardent, unexamined, idolizing, jealous, irrational, fear-driven patriotism and/or its hotheaded cousin, nationalism)
This is the first-blush.
First-stage lovers and patriots prefer the smoke and mirror gaze, airbrushed and nipped and tucked into a more palatable object of desire and allegiance...a flag without blemish.
It is often a jealous and grasping phase of affections...Think "he can't love you like I love you baby" or in the silky tongue of Rudolph Giuliani, "I do not believe that the President loves America...He doesn't love you and he doesn't love me."
This insecurity can intensify and turn paranoid.
A particularly primitive strain may be threatened by any relationship taken up outside the bedroom, lest leaky borders cause that fiery Mexican Don Juan next door (or in that "sanctuary city") to seduce your wife and expose the fragility of the romance, built mostly on escapist myths about the union's self-made exceptionalism...
Like a Last Tango in Paris, any outside contact or historical context threatens the purity of the fantasy and must be fenced out. Given his polls didn't suffer like his business ties, First Phase Wooer Extraordinaire, Donald Trump, must have known this "Go get the butter" speak would knock 'em off their feet with that "somebody was doing the raping" pickup line...
In fact, these ingénues so prefer the uncomplicated narrative delivered by self-appointed and (misnamed) "Straight shooters," even when it comes at the expense of their own well-being or dignity or precludes established fact, that they will put up with partners who exploit them and politicians that send their children to profiteering wars predicated on lies, just so long as they don't have to "talk about it," or worse yet, go to therapy, or allow their kids to take dangerous AP American History courses or for that matter, engage in any type of self-examination, which could break up a happy home and take with it the furniture and flags and guns.
Naïve love is all about the rescue fantasy.
It's about protecting the princess citizen from scary migrants and refugees who threaten fragile national identities. It hones in on the most insecure woman at the bar. It is Marine Le Pen, leader of the far-right National Front Party in France, rushing in to seduce Greece when it is most on its knees, railing against "the oligarchy of the European Union," while offering no alternatives to the current bailout plan.
This is an angry and fearful love. It demands unqualified allegiance at any expense and feeds on people down on their luck. It resists criticism and isolates itself. It is unilateralist and uncompromising. It strikes no deals.
At its most extreme, first-stagers are violent and recruit partners whose circumstances are so depraved that they'll sign on to emotional Jihad and the "logic of savagery" in exchange for belonging and protection.
Naive lovers rarely apologize. They sanitize historical fact and avoid hard truths, lest they're cast in an unflattering light.
Of course, we all take a turn as innocents...
We're all capable of believing things about ourselves we know deep down to be insufficiently complicated at best, untrue at worst. Sometimes we may impudently twist the facts just to be in the moral right. George Orwell suggested that "intellectually, it's possible to carry on this process indefinitely" -- for an individual's or for that matter, a nation's whole lifetime. The only thing that would stop you is if your delusional belief "bumps against a solid reality..."
Take the inevitable collapse of Don and Betty Draper's marriage under the weight of lies or the young soldier's infatuated allegiance giving way to disillusionment when he realizes he lost limbs and friends to a battle waged on deceptions.
Stage Two: The Cynical Digital Romance
(Embittered, guarded, rational, faithless, ironic, awkward, stingy, self-deprecating, fault-finding, rebound patriotism)
Here you will no longer be that naïve lover.
Now drained of blood and treasure, you'll have been dragged through breakups and battles and will be on a jaded rebound.
The blind faith that marked your last relationship ended in torture, or what Republicans and your ex's divorce lawyer prefers to call "Enhanced Interrogation Techniques." It put your house in foreclosure and left you friendless and jobless and for what?
After all, you were so good! You went shopping on Christmas (so the "Terrorists wouldn't win") and spent all your cash to show you loved her, that you were "with" her (and not "against" her.)
All this left you so isolated, broke and bitter, that you may have been tempted to give up on love and democracy all together and settle for a life of sexting, group hangs and hookups. Maybe you wanted to move to Canada and grow a monastic beard. Or perhaps you joined the ranks of early-aughts spiritual materialists and got a bunk at the upstate ashram and focused on the slow unspiraling of your kundalini.
You don't believe anything anyone says anymore. Lies, lies, lies.
But one cannot curb one's enthusiasm forever. Eventually, irony and navel-gazing exhaust themselves and one gets lonely and even Larry David longs to believe again...
Stage Three: True Love? (or "The Second Naiveté"...)
Return to the naiveté of First Stage but now equipped with the self-knowledge and rationalism gleaned from the lonely trek across the cynical desert of Stage Two.
Here's where you acknowledge your part in failed relationships and the injustice and venality inherent in the American experience.
Yet instead of giving up and settling into a Stage Two Patriotism (based on nihilistic booty-call citizenship where no real feelings or expectations are at stake), this brave lover chooses to focus on America's narrative of progress in the struggle against its original sins.
She acknowledges self and country as deeply flawed, but chooses to love regardless.
While this patriot is no longer in the grip of a spotless myth about his country's exceptionalism, he is neither some half-hearted lover of the motherland.
His realism and restraint does not detract from, but refines his loyalty and affections.
She is no longer blind to America's misdeeds and therefore has disabused herself of the delusion that it is inoculated against acting badly, or is justified in doing things that Americans would reproach if anyone else did them.
She does not blame outsiders for all America's problems but looks inward for ways she can be a more effective and caring citizen.
He loves America despite the fact that it has betrayed the ideals of the Declaration in countless ways, even as it waved its flag while impugning the patriotism of those who risked their lives to stop those betrayals.
This patriot picks up the flag again and again, even having had it jerked from hand before being turned away at the poll.
He does not put America up on a pedestal and worship a marble version of her. Rather, he knocks down the dated monuments that mask her blemishes because those falsify the real her.
This love of country does not exist in some marmoreal realm but is ravishingly alive and pulsating with contradictory currents; one heated by a burning concern for freedom and the other chilled by how this same ideal was historically and ideologically made compatible with the oppression of its peoples.
But sometimes even time-tested marriages fall from grace...
Sometimes we regress when democracy starts to feels like "all work" and no fun. Here we may long for the simple days when love was young and foolish and presidents spoke like cowboys, not professors...
Back when there was still predictable weather patterns and when black was black and white was rich, before all this caramelizing and when marriage was the simple oath between a man and his oppressed wife -- when Caitlyn was a red blooded American man winning the race...
But gentle compatriots, I beg us this: Before we indulge a cliché midlife affair with another brash bloodthirsty baron or swashbuckling tycoon promising to rescue and regale us from all this dialogue and diplomacy, and the daily compromising and sacrificing we do for each other; please consider first that what we have now is turning out to look like real love for the very first time in America...
Let's not fall now, beloved patriot in arms, from Amazing Grace.