Monday, October 13, 2014

Notes on Patriotism from an American Atheist

In his book, Capture the flag: a political history of American patriotism, Woden Teachout distinguishes American patriotism from American nationalism.[1] American nationalism requires love and support for our country. I relate nationalism to the commitment one feels for a favorite sports team. Regardless of who is playing on the team, who is coaching the team, who owns the team, and how well the team is doing this season, the fan proclaims, “My team is the best!” Likewise, regardless of the foreign policies of this country, domestic policies of this country, and data on how this country ranks in the world on myriad issues, the nationalist proclaims, “America is the best!” Nationalistic flag waving support for any and all military actions initiated by the US, regardless of the moral grounding of these actions, very much resembles a sports fan rooting for his/her favorite team. The mantra of the American nationalist is, “AMERICA, LOVE IT OR LEAVE IT!”

Conversely, the focus of American patriotism is love and support for the ideals of our country. The Declaration of Independence and the United States Constitution articulate these values:

·         Popular Sovereignty: The people are the ultimate source of the authority for the government. It derives its right to govern from their consent.
·         Majority Rule and Minority Rights: While decisions are ultimately made by the majority, these decisions may not infringe on the rights of the minority
·         Limited Government: The powers of government are limited by law and kept in check through separated and shared powers, due process of law, and leadership succession through elections
·         Basic Rights: Life, liberty, property, and the pursuit of happiness.[2]

As an atheist and a skeptic, I have a deep appreciation for the incisive simplicity of these principles. True American patriotism, by its very nature, prohibits nationalism. A true American patriot holds government accountable to the people. The Iraq War, which ultimately killed between 144,745 and 166,468 civilians and orphaned over half of Iraq’s children, was initiated despite the CIA’s “best Intelligence” indicating Saddam Hussein did NOT have weapons of mass destruction.[3]  A war precipitated by ignoble motivations is tantamount to mass murder and should be repellant to a real American patriot.

There is a significant correlation (.78) between the nature of legislation passed in the US and the desires of the economic elites in America.[4] There is a near zero correlation (.03) between the nature of legislation passed in the US and the desires of the average citizen in America.[5] These statistics demonstrate that popular sovereignty does not currently exist in the US! The American patriot is outraged by such information that cuts to the heart of our democracy. The nationalist may shrug it off as, “just politics.”

A true American patriot ensures that minority rights are protected. The Constitution is very clear on this point. However, disregard for the rights of minorities are in the news every day. African Americans represent 13.2%[6] of the US population, but are arrested at a rate “10 times higher than people who are not black.”[7] Unfairness to any minority group is repugnant to a true patriot, but may be seen as trivial to the nationalist.

A true American patriot supports the separation and limitations of power in government. Laws like Citizens United nullify the checks and balances put into place by the framers of the Constitution to ensure that power is never in the hands of a privileged few. When the economic elite fund politicians from both sides of the isle at all levels of government, there is no longer any real separation of power. Any process that undermines our democracy is an outrage to a patriot. Nationalists, however, will continue to wave the flag and shout, “We’re the best!”

A true American patriot supports the natural rights of everyone everywhere to live freely and pursue their own happiness. Freedom is a fragile and complex notion. Initially, a capitalistic, free-market economy is a healthy environment to foster freedom. However, anyone who has played the game Monopoly knows that it always ends the same way. One player will own everything, while the other players have nothing. Monopoly is an unrestrained capitalist, free-market economy. In the real world, if a society wishes to preserve freedom, capitalism must have checks and balances that continuously even the playing field. Regulations on banking, Wall Street, and others at the top of the food chain protect liberty and freedom for the average citizen.

The fundamental values outlined in the Constitution are forever in the hearts of true American patriots. American liberals and American conservatives should also be American patriots. Nationalists wrapped in the American flag, who claim patriotism, need to be outed for what they really are.

[1]  Teachout, Woden (2009). Capture the flag: a political history of American patriotism. New York, New York, USA: Basic Books. p. 230. 
[3] Taylor, Peter. "Iraq War: The Greatest Intelligence Failure in Living Memory." The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group, n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.
[4] Gilens, Martin, and Benjamin I. Page. "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest
Groups, and Average Citizens." Perspect. Polit. Perspectives on Politics 12.03 (2014): 564-81. Web.
[5] Gilens, Martin, and Benjamin I. Page. "Testing Theories of American Politics: Elites, Interest
Groups, and Average Citizens." Perspect. Polit. Perspectives on Politics 12.03 (2014): 564-81. Web.
[6] "USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau." USA QuickFacts from the US Census Bureau. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

[7] Heath, Brad. "Racial Gap in U.S. Arrest Rates: 'Staggering Disparity'" USA Today. Gannett, 19 Nov. 2014. Web. 30 Oct. 2015.

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