The Weaponization of Patriotism
On Saturday, we marked the 20th anniversary of the worst act of foreign terrorism in the US. (I think it’s important to make the distinction here between foreign and domestic terrorism because both have occurred – the reign of the KKK, the Oklahoma City bombing, The Trail of Tears, the endless lynchings of people of color, and on and on and on). When Donald Trump became president, he decided that September 11th should be further known as ‘Patriot Day’. The purpose was to honor, and rightfully so, the brave men, women, and children who lost their lives during and in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. I’ve never referred to myself as a patriot and quite honestly hadn’t given the idea of renaming 9/11 “Patriot Day” another thought when he made the change. However, as the years since 2016 have passed, it’s occurred to me that patriotism has become a weapon to defend some of the most egreious behavior, all in the name of “love for one’s country”.
I don’t find it coincidental that the president of “real patriots”, renamed the National Day of Remembrance and Prayer “Patriot Day” the same year that Colin Kaepernick decided to kneel during the US national anthem. In case you’ve been living in a cave, Kaepernick took a knee in silent protest of the unjusttreatment of people of color at the hands of police, among other things. That lead to a fire storm of tweets, boycotts, death threats and of course, him being labeled, “unpatriotic”. What’s ironic about that is that he actually talked to a veteran who said that kneeling was actually the most respectful thing to do and countless veterans have since agreed that they thought was he did was not only respectful, but well within his rights as an US citizen. The idea that he, and anyone who supported his peaceful protest (just an FYI – we’re those supporters – we haven’t watched an NFL game in 5 years), were unpatriotic became the norm. How dare we not stand, as true patriots, for this country that (enslaved black folks, stole from Native people, wouldn’t give women the right to vote, thought separate but equal was okay, doesn’t want particular immigrants in this country) is so great for so many? How dare we not have an undying love for the US and not continue to honor all the symbols of patriotism – the national anthem (that leaves out the 4th verse about slavery), the Flag (that I’ve seen draped across countless bodies as triangle bikinis), and reverence for the military?
And then January 6, 2021 happened. In case you were still in a cave, millions of “patriots” descended upon the nation’s Capitol and attempted to overthrow the government because their guy lost. I don’t call them patriots – that’s what they called themselves. However, it’s confusing when you think about it. A man protests systemic racism, which we have countless evidence of, by respectfully kneeling during the national anthem (while other folks stand in the concession stand line, go to the bathroom, or talk at their house parties) and isn’t “patriotic”, but the people who try to overthrow the government based on conspiracy theories from a disgruntled loser and his minions are “patriots”? According to Merriam-Webster online, “The word patriot signifies a person who loves his or her country and is ready to boldly support and defend it.” Wouldn’t that mean that trying to overrun the Capitol and kill the people who agreed that the election was not in fact a sham, be the opposite of patriotism? Wouldn’t that actually make you a, terrorist? Doesn’t it seem weird that only people who stand up against a system of inequality aren’t deemed patriots?
That was a rhetorical question. Let’s all be honest here. Patriotism has been weaponized over the last five years to demonize anybody who doesn’t have undying loyalty to president 45, who speaks out against inequality (whether it be race, gender, sexual orientation, immigration status, etc), and/or whose love for their country also comes with the admission that the US isn’t perfect. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’m okay with not being patriotic or considered a patriot. I believe that true love for anything means seeing it for all it’s glory and all it’s grossness. Anything less is just infatuation.
Until next time…