American politics have become a frustrating machine. Nearly two and a half centuries of political development—a period which has overseen countless national controversies, social movements, and ideological disputes—have ultimately resulted in a system prone to gridlock and irreconcilable differences between two major parties. Sections of the political spectrum, as a result, have associated themselves with concepts and stances of which, they believe, they alone represent the ideal viewpoint. A prime example lies with patriotism—an idea which the far right believes to be their own. However, this belief is misguided.
There is no doubt that the conservative voice shouts the loudest about its own patriotism. You’ll rarely see a “Bernie 2016” bumper sticker alongside one proudly proclaiming “America: Back to Back World War Champions”—the two simply seem to represent staunchly different political temperaments.
But is it true that the chest-thumping, flag-waving, terrorist-bashing “love” of America truly represents the essence of patriotism? What is patriotism, anyway?
To the stereotyped group above, this may indeed be the one and only definition of a patriotic American. After all, there’s something comfortable about displaying blind support of one’s country, without any thought towards compromise, change, and action for the common good.
From a progressive standpoint, however, patriotism means something else. At the core of progressivism is the desire to bring about actual, attainable change—change which does not exclusively cater to the liberal or conservative agenda, but actually brings the nation (and world) into a better place than it had been before. The progressive does not wish to return to the mythical glory of the past, but rather strives to attain unprecedented heights in social development and cultural awareness.
Patriotism is therefore at the very heart of progressivism. The progressive patriot shows “love” for his country not by shouting the loudest about the greatness of America’s past or present, but by yearning for political action which, ultimately, will bring about a truly great nation, one which deserves its constituents’ pride.
If this were the full extent of the issue—if, for example, the conservative right simply accepted that they “do not own patriotism” (as Jon Stewart puts it here)—all would be well. But there is political injustice at play, in the sense that those who call themselves patriots most often and most loudly seem to condemn their opponents, the progressive patriots among us, as anti-American, simply because of the progressive belief that the truest, greatest form of American society has not yet been attained.
In the end, this injustice lies at the root of the political problems present in the United States today. Because progressives and left-leaning individuals are labeled unpatriotic by their opponents, from the point of view of the Republican right, the other side of the political spectrum cannot possibly be acting in the best interest of American citizens.
To be perfectly fair, this problem goes both ways. Staunch leftists all too often seem to believe that their opponents are purposely trying to harm American society for the sake of personal gain. Although this may sometimes be true, such a judgement certainly does not apply to the conservative view of things in general.
Consider the vacancy in the Supreme Court left by the death of Antonin Scalia. From the conservative viewpoint, any appointee nominated by President Obama would be unacceptable, no matter how moderate the individual may be. Merrick Garland, considered by many to be fairly agreeable to both parties and certainly not the most liberal politician that Obama could have appointed (the Washington Post suggests here that Garland is more moderate than liberal), has not been accepted onto the Supreme Court after six months. In the meantime, the Court has faced political gridlock on far too many important issues.
This is the evil that stems from ignoring the relevance and presence of the progressive patriot. Ideally, patriotism should rely upon compromise in situations like these; patriotism should rest upon a general consensus that the political spectrum as a whole is working towards the goal of social well-being.
Progressivism is not anti-patriotism. Rather, it is part of the very definition of patriotism. And so, if any true change for the good of the nation as a whole is to occur, the patriotism of the entire political spectrum must be acknowledged, and the honest voice of the progressive patriot must be recognized as just that: a meaningful, valued, and patriotic voice.
In the end, patriotism through progress must be the force which brings ideologies together, not the one which tears them apart.