Monday, July 4, 2022

The Patriotism Gap

A law professor by name of Jedediah Britton-Purdy has penned a New York Times article about our patriotism gap. You see, Republicans are vastly more patriotic than Democrats. They are far more likely to love their country or to feel pride in their country. In truth, they are even more loyal to their nation.

For the record, JBP used to be known as Jedediah Purdy. Apparently, that counts as his maiden name. Since he married a woman whose father’s name was Britton, he chose to add her father’s name to his. Apparently, she returned the favor. The result is gangly and awkward. At the least it is good for one generation. If a future Britton-Purdy marries someone named Montgomery-Fleckenstein, the absurdity of the affectation will become painfully evident in the 34 letter hodge podge.

Anyway, Purdy wants to reclaim patriotism for the left. He does not quite know what patriotism is, so this makes his task more daunting. But he is a law professor, so he must be thoroughly adept at spinning webs of high-toned fabulations.

In truth, he presents the standard leftist view of patriotism. A good leftist can be patriotic when the nation does what leftists want it to do, not when it succeeds, not when it produces prosperity, not when it accomplishes things, not when it wins wars or defeats tyrannical enemies. 

No, the left grants its loyalty only when the nation lives up to the left’s ideals. The problem is, a nation is not an ideal. Holding it to an unrealistic standard requires a special sort of blindness. One ignores the nation’s victories and chastises it for its defects, flaws and faults.

Given this mindset, the left cannot be patriotic. Because patriotic means being proud of the country for its successes and despite its failures. When Purdy belabors America’s failings and sounds like a retread of the widely discredited 1619 project he is showing why today’s American left has lost its sense of patriotism, and with it, its pride in the nation.

Purdy lists his grievances, which involve a typically leftist criticism of the nation. You will notice, if you read his screed, that he has not a single word for the nation’s successes, focusing instead on racially charged grievances and other assorted crimes against the natural world:

As the 245th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence arrives in a country with the world’s highest incarceration rate, sky-high per capita carbon emissions, an epidemic of gun violence and abortion bans across much of the American map, progressive disgust has clear appeal.

Purdy is proud that America defeated slavery and won the Civil War. He has nothing to say about World War I, World War II or the Cold War. 

The patriotism we need is the patriotism of July 5, which used to be a rallying day for abolitionists, particularly in New York State. Before the Civil War, July 5 was a rejoinder to the hypocrisy of Independence Day, which trumpeted liberty in a country full of race slavery. It was also, for many abolitionists, a day to continue the founding work of Emancipation, to build on and extend a flawed but radical inheritance.

Being a good leftist, with a hyphenated name, Purdy is only proud of what he calls progressive achievements. 

Douglass, in the famous July 5 speech often called “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” denounced national crimes in blistering terms, but also praised the Declaration of Independence as the pivot-point of Americans’ “yet undeveloped destiny.” Douglass called liberty and equality “saving principles” that the country could still make real.

Many progressive achievements have roots in the July 5 style of patriotism. When President Lyndon Johnson made the case for the Voting Rights Act in a national TV broadcast before Congress in 1965, he called the United States “the first nation in the history of the world to be founded with a purpose”: creating a free society of equal citizens. That purpose was a measure of failure as well as success.

He might have mentioned that the decline in patriotism dates to the Vietnam Era, when the great Lyndon Johnson was damaging the nation, the national character and the nation’s pride by getting us involved in a war that he did not know how to fight or to win. Dare we mention the grotesque military incompetence of the Johnson administration? Is it redeemed by the Civil Rights Act? Good question. Purdy does not ask it.

Yet, he is still obsessed with the nation’s failings and only considers success to be passing more leftist legislation.

This version of patriotism links criticism of our country’s failings with a commitment to changing them. It cleaves to principles of freedom and equality because they are right, and also because they are ours, they are us. It addresses America’s worst aspects, not as enemies to be eliminated (as in our many domestic “wars” on this or that) but as we would approach a friend or family member who had lost their way. In this spirit, even the harshest reproach, the most relentless list of wrongs, comes with a commitment to repair and heal, to build a more just and decent country. It also entails a practical faith: As long as change might be possible, we owe it to one another to try.

Again, Purdy is a good leftist and sees America in terms of its failings and its crimes-- never in terms of its successes. What matters is not winning wars, providing prosperity for most of the nation, but moving toward an ill-defined ideal-- justice. It would be a wondrous thing for the left to learn what a nation is, and to learn first that it is not constituted to fulfill an ideal:

They insisted that every American ought to shoulder some of the responsibility for their country’s crimes and failings, whether or not they had personally benefited or suffered from them. And, for Johnson and King, everyone deserved to take some pride in American progress toward justice. Patriotism was a practical task: to appreciate and preserve what is good, work to change what is bad, and remember that part of what is good in a country is that citizens can change it. 

Purdy does not see the nation involved in a transnational and civilizational clash with nations like China and Russia, and especially with the Brics nations. When leaders have no sense of competition, the nation is hardly being positioned to succeed in this clash. Instead, as you might have guessed, Purdy is more concerned with fighting injustice and going to war against the weather:

Today, America faces threats to national well-being and even survival: climate change, racial inequity, oligarchy, the economic collapse of whole regions. But the enemy is not an invader: These slow-moving crises pit us against one another.

Spewing our carbon, living in our economically and ideologically segregated neighborhoods and regions, trading accusations of bigotry and bad faith, we are one another’s problems. In these conditions, it is hard to find threads of commonality. At some point, a liberal gets tired of saying, “We are better than this,” when we seem resolutely not to be.

As I have noted, this is a smorgasbord of grievances, of complaints of constant whining.

And of course, Purdy joins those who are constantly mewling about the loss of democracy. I will recommend, in passing, that every time someone bemoans the loss of democracy, you hear them saying that they worry about the losses that the Democratic Party is about to suffer, for failing to promote patriotic loyalty to the country.

Earlier political transformation, such as the New Deal and the civil rights movement, had to shift political power and make the country more democratic in order to make it better. Because democracy is power, and power is scary and dangerous, political trust and a generous vision of the country are especially important in making a country more democratic.

Of course, democracy is not about power. American constitutional government is about the separation of powers and about checks and balances on the exercise of power. But, like a good leftist, Purdy reverts to more infantile thinking and confuses the exercise of power with getting one’s way.

Isn’t saving American democracy the apogee of patriotism? Yes, true enough; but in a time this deeply divided and unstable, it isn’t enough to be the party that insists on following the rules.

Rules are distillations of a deeper picture of how to live together. Saving — or perhaps achieving — democracy will require convincing enough people to embrace a vision of the country in which everyone can vote, votes count and majorities rule. Our rules and institutions depend, in the end, on our attachment to living with a shared politics. With that attachment, win or lose, many things are possible. Without it, nothing lasts long.

Of course, this is rich from an American left that spent four years decrying the results of the 2016 election, that put every ounce of its energy into delegitimizing the presidency of one Donald Trump and into destroying anyone who was part of the Trump effort. Isn't it still trying to find a way to indict Trump, for the crime of rejecting the Obama legacy? So, begin by practicing what you preach.

Moreover, the principle of the American constitution is not that majorities rule. It was precisely to prevent the rule of a tyrannical majority that Madison wrote a constitution that checked and balanced power. 

Purdy will feel loyalty to America when it does what he wants it to do, when it pretends to be living according to his ideals. Under those conditions, it is clear enough the the left is a long ways away from patriotism.


Anonymous said...

The left has always been pro Marist and now they are embracing communism. Everything the left now says publicly is to deny, obscure and hide the fact that they are full fledged communist now.

Anonymous said...

For a guy that was apparently one of the next great writers based on his debut book on Irony, he is pretty much a bag of platitudes and pre-digested talking points.

Anonymous said...

Anon the first, I think you meant to say "Marxist", not "Marist".

"Anyway, Purdy wants to reclaim patriotism for the left." Ahhh, but the Left is against patriotism (as we all know,,,)!

I was a Cold War warrior, having been in 38 different holes in the ground with missiles at the ready in Arizona and Missouri. (There's a site south of Tucson that's the only one left as a museum.

IamDevo said...

FJB-P. Pretty catchy, no? Feel free to plagiarize.