Monday, May 01, 2006

All in the Family

Just as liberal non-believers are constantly admonished to keep quiet about their atheism so as not to offend the credulous majority that decides elections, people skeptical about American exceptionalism are shushed when they dare to criticize the sacred nation, not only by those who ask without irony, “Why do you hate America?” but also by erstwhile progressives whose political courage—or prudence—doesn’t extend to challenging our national vanity. One can talk about “true patriotism” but the notion that there is might be something problematic about any kind of patriotism is a non-starter.

I don’t know whether Americans are more thin-skinned about their country than the citizens of other nations. They–we—seem to be, though you might expect that the inhabitants of so dominant a nation wouldn’t have to be so touchy, not only when foreigners criticize us but also and especially when one of our own dares to suggest that we aren’t all that wonderful after all. I have a different take on things. I’m an American whether or not we’re perfect and lovely in every way just as, for better or worse, I’ll go on belonging to my family even if there really is something alarming about Uncle Ernie. Which is why, while I much prefer the “May she always be in the right” part, I also buy into the “my country, right or wrong” part of Stephen Decatur’s toast. But if I’m going to sign on to stick with the ship, I’d very much prefer if the ship didn’t actually go down; and I propose to go on reading the riot act to the other sailors and even the captain if I think they’re steering towards the rocks.

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