The national discourse, as well as a little local talk I’ve heard lately, got me to thinking about patriotism. And love of community. Let me start with our views of the U.S., then bring it on home.
To my recollection, it wasn’t so long ago that Americans’ love of country was called into question if they opposed the “war on terrorism.” When President George W. Bush said, shortly after 9/11,“If you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists,” he was speaking to the nations of the world, and especially to the Middle East, but the tone of those words quickly came home to roost. Bush was able to invade Iraq with the help of this nationalist sentiment; even many in the media rolled over and accepted his notion that a preemptive strike was necessary.
The result was that we entered into one of the most ill-advised wars in our history.
Now comes Libya, and President Obama’s decision to support the rebels with airstrikes. This time, no such nationalist sentiment exists. In fact, Obama is being criticized heavily from both the left and the right.
I’m inclined to support his decision to enter the fray in a limited capacity, but at the same time I’m glad Americans aren’t easily lining up behind him. As far as I’m concerned, blindly following our national leaders is one of the most unpatriotic things you can do. We’re best as a nation of free thinkers.
Of course, this applies in a number of other ways:
• Concluding that we have nothing to learn from other nations isn’t patriotism, it’s ignorance. There’s nothing wrong with looking at other health-care systems and trying to figure out how to apply their best practices to our system.
• Placing our national security interests above the rest of the world’s is another form of ignorance. Building up our nation by standing on the backs of other people may offer short-term gains, but in the long run it undermines our security. Ultimately, the world must rise together, or someone will pull us back down. There’s evidence of that everywhere.
• Loyalty to one’s political party isn’t even close to patriotism. No party has a monopoly on what’s best for our country, and yet there are partisans who root for national failure so one party can fall while the other rises to power.
The fact of the matter is, we live in a great and flawed nation. Waving the flag and touting what’s great is an easy and superficial sort of patriotism. Working to better our nation, to fix its flaws, is a more substantive form of patriotism. Let’s not fool ourselves into thinking otherwise.
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Here’s a question for all who love and cherish Las Vegas: Which of the following statements best expresses love for our community?
“Las Vegas is the perfect place to live. We’ve got great people, a rich culture, successful businesses and good jobs. This is a great place to raise a family, with schools that are small enough to allow students to get the personal attention they need to succeed.”
“Las Vegas suffers from low expectations. We’ve learned to accept the fact that nearly a quarter of our population is functionally illiterate and living below the poverty line, and that our crime rate is comparable to that of many big cities. We’ll never overcome these problems until we confront them openly and honestly.”
Of course, I just made up both statements, but I think I know a lot of people who agree with one or the other, and even some who agree with both.
I’ll not answer the question I posed. Maybe you’d like to.
Tom McDonald is editor and publisher of the Optic. He may be reached at 505-425-6796, ext. 237, or email@example.com.