In a world where significant portions of national populations are defining their collective identity through the exclusion of immigrants and those perceived as interlopers, what is the role of patriotism this upcoming Independence Day? Said another way, can one be patriotic after Brexit?
American Christians in particular have a messy relationship with patriotism. For many of them, to be a good American is to be a good Christian, and vice versa. There is no tension between the two. This mindset is "my country right-or-wrong," fused with God Bless the USA sung unironically.
Others have concluded, not without merit, that American history is so bathed in injustice that the only ethical response is one that orients itself oppositionally to the American state. 400 years of racism, expropriation of land, state-sponsored violence in the name of liberty, and marginalization of dissenting voices provides ample evidence for this stance. People of faith and conscience have historically taken actions like being conscientious objectors and refraining from standing during the pledge of allegiance to indicate their opposition to the dominant culture. I have significant sympathy for this latter approach.
The Fourth of July is often a day of fireworks, family and food; but more than that, it needs to be a day where we look at where our country is and where it needs to be pushed to be a "more perfect union." It is too easy to look back on the past and celebrate how far we've come. That is the path of triumphalism, of either the illusion of inevitable progress or the silencing of urgent grievances weighing down on significant portions of our population.
I believe that there is value in understanding patriotism as critique of one's country to make it better. As James Baldwin once said, "I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually." I think Baldwin hits the nail on the head. To the extent that we reclaim the word, patriotism is thus devotion to the wellbeing of people in my society, especially those on the margins. Building a more just society for everyone, not just a select few, is one of the best ways long-term to diminish the allure of ethno-centric nationalism, where identity is defined exclusively with rigid insiders and outsiders.
And so this Independence Day, while I may enjoy some official fireworks displays, I will rededicate myself to the struggle to make our country a place that we can be proud of. If that's not patriotic, I don't know what is.
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