Opinion » Bill Cope

Bashful Patriots

Where lies the land these liberals love?


In a recent conversation about the upside-down surrealism to which grotesque buffoon Donald Trump has brought our nation, my friend said something to this effect: "You know, one good thing about this stuff with him [the grotesque buffoon] and the Russians: I've gotten over being embarrassed to say I love my country."

I knew exactly what she was talking about. It's been a raw spot for myself and virtually every liberal I have known: We simply don't do the, Hey, hey, what d'ya' say? Don'tcha just love the U.S. of A! thing well. While others wave Barbie-sized flags and belt out "God Bless America," we tend to shrink back, unsure of how to comport ourselves.

For example: parades. I can't speak for every American liberal, of course, but I've noticed we're not so bigly on those hoo-rah spectacles where everything is bunted out in red, white and blue... where the organizers trot out a few veterans so that politicians can be seen thanking them profusely for their service (in lieu of actually delivering on the promises that were made to them)... where the country's grand gestures are celebrated and the grody details are conveniently unmentioned... those kind of parades don't, as a general rule, draw a lot of liberals.

Or "God and Country" rallies: You don't (as a general rule) catch many of us at those events, either. Too much bragging, too much swagger, too much self-righteousness and too many white people patting their own backs for achievements in which they had no part.

Again, I am not the voice of American liberalism, but I feel it's safe to say we don't hang the flag out front anywhere near as often as not-so-liberal people do. It's not that we have anything against Old Glory—at least, as long as it's not being used as a propaganda tool to proselytize for crap wars and general chicanery. If you're like me, you can't help but feel that if you've seen one flag (or Independence Day parade, or fireworks display), you've pretty much seen 'em all.

This reticence to hoot and holler over how great our nation is—plus our proclivity to do whatever hooting and hollering we're apt to do when the nation is not acting so great—has taken its toll on our credentials as true-blue patriots. The Right considers us the turds in the American exceptionalism punchbowl—if only we'd shut our disloyal mouths, just imagine how smugly proud the country could be.

Yet, in spite of what conservatives believe (as is nearly always the case), our love of America is as complete—and far more thoughtful—as that bunch who are never seen in public without flag pins on their lapels. We just love different aspects of it, and it must be said we are all fortunate to be citizens of a cultural smorgasbord so broad, so diverse, so multifaceted, that for even the stoniest of hearts, there is something here to melt it.

For example, I love the heritage bequeathed to us by people who turned centuries of American slavery, abuse, injustice and struggle into the most exciting and expressive art form of the last 100 years. I consider jazz to be among the most satisfying legacies of the American story—and it could have been born in no other country.

But for those who would dictate what the standards for national devotion should be, it's unlikely they would ever accept a love for jazz—or much else in popular culture—as a valid expression of patriotism. As much as the Right professes to love the America of its fantasies, it hates with equal passion most of the Americana in its face.

The Right also hates like hell the fact that what liberals love most intensely about America are those faltering steps the country and its people have taken—and until very recently continued to take—away from the ignorance, injustice and brutality that accompanied the nation's origins. For instance, we love our public education system, no matter how much it might be improved. We love organized labor, even if it's had its dark side (what hasn't?). We love our voting rights, even if getting them, and keeping them, is a continuing struggle.

We love our freedom to speak our minds, even if many don't like what we have to say. We love the actions our country has taken to clean the water, clear the air and ensure our progeny a sustainable world. We love this great confluence of ethnic rivers—that nowhere else in the known universe have so many diverse cultures blended with so little conflict. (Relative to the Balkans, the rest of Europe, all of Asia, Africa and most of the Southern Hemisphere.)

In short, while the Right loves a memory of what its members think America was, liberals love the promise of what we've seen America becoming. Yet, under the present regime, so much of that promise is under assault by men and women stunted by spite and encouraged by a foreign power that has held nothing but scorn for America and its egalitarian nature for the best part of a century.

As evermore of this anti-hope, anti-transcendence, anti-American attack is exposed, the Left has had, like my friend (and myself), to think harder than it has had to in decades about what is at stake, and how desperately the country as a whole will miss it if the attack succeeds. As our devotion to our American vision strengthens, the Right grows increasingly hateful of everything we hold dear.