Loving Your Country is Like Loving Your Child
By Patrick Kenney
On July 1, Patrick Kenney participated in BUGHOUSE! #25. His topic was Patriotism: Positive Pride or Gateway to Division? He was tasked to argue the side that “Love of country is the salve needed to heal and make the USA great.” He won the overall audience favorite. Here is his argument.
My daughter, Irene, will be two in the fall. She’s a genius; she can already recite her alphabet and count to twenty-five, among other amazing feats. She’s also really fucking adorable. You’ll have to take my word for it since I generally refrain from sharing pictures of her because I know every time I do, the people looking at her cute face love their own kids just a little bit less. And that’s not nice, it feels cruel.
I love Irene more than anything. I am devoted to her. I would die to defend her.
But that doesn’t mean I defend or justify every single thing she does. When she tries to claw her mother’s eyes out because she hasn’t peeled a banana fast enough, I let her know that that shit is not acceptable. My love for her motivates me to help her not be an asshole. I want her to succeed at being a worthwhile person. I want her to realize her full potential. Which I’ll again briefly mention is enormous, probably greater than your kids’, if you have them.
This brings me to love of country; patriotism. I believe it has value — that it can and should be key to healing America. But patriotism is not well defined and often misunderstood. Patriotism is not, for example, standing up during the national anthem. That could be considered a show of respect, but alone it does not qualify as patriotism. Because love of country requires something more from you, much like love for your children. It is your responsibility to help your country realize its full potential. That’s patriotism. And it isn’t accomplished by getting off your ass during a song. If I stand up every time Elmo’s song plays, my daughter will likely find that an appropriate show of respect, but it will do nothing to prevent her from becoming an asshole.
To help your children become their best selves, you must help them build their own personal code of conduct; generally designed around kindness to others, hard work, whatever important things should be the guiding ideals of their lives.
In our country, it is our responsibility to guide America toward realizing the ideals upon which it is founded; namely freedom and equality. This pursuit can unify us. We can share this mission, it can help make us closer, give us common purpose, and make this country a better place for all of us to live, more like the America of our most sea-to-shining-sea fantasies.
Now let’s be clear, if you are not doing something to enhance or support freedom and equality, then you are not a patriot. Which is okay, you’re not required to be a patriot. But if you are actively claiming to be a patriot while pursuing activities that are opposed to freedom and equality, then you are a false patriot and a hypocrite. And no amount of phony flag waving will save you from your hypocrisy.
If I stand up every time Elmo’s song plays, my daughter will likely find that an appropriate show of respect, but it will do nothing to prevent her from becoming an asshole.
Now, some may try to convince you that this is precisely the problem, that this kind of talk is how patriotism leads to division. But of course, you will know that they are wrong, and I’ll explain why.
Yes, we are divided in this country. The current president is not a patriot despite his habit of publicly masturbating with the flag. That is false patriotism. A show of respect, I guess, albeit a disgusting one. But hugging a flag or standing up during a song is just a show, it does nothing to advance the causes of freedom and equality. Its purpose can be to conceal truer intentions and actions that are meant to undermine the country. This is hypocrisy. Some might even say treason, though they would not legally be correct, they might say it anyway, and the idea is correct enough for BUGHOUSE!.
Our primary divisions are between patriots, confused would-be patriots, and traitors. Some divisions cannot and should not be overcome. We are not, for example, going to find common ground with the KKK. And we should not seek to make nice with traitors. But we can overcome many of the divisions between patriots of various stripes and those not so patriotic but still interested parties. We can do this by pursuing true patriotism together.
These distinctions are important. Because a broad and unfounded desire to stop fighting and get along actually deepens division. Lack of true patriotism allows us to lose sight of our shared goal. It allows someone like the current president to come to power because it enables us to tolerate traitors, or worse yet, to confuse them for patriots.
If I say to my wife, “Look, we both love this baby. We both want her to be happy. She wants to claw your fucking eyes out and you must allow it. Be a devoted parent and relent to having your eyes clawed out,” the divisions between my wife and I will deepen, and my daughter will turn into a monster instead of the adorable genius she’s meant to be.
So, I will sit down with my wife and say, “Look, we have our differences. You peel a banana too goddamn slowly and that infuriates our daughter. You’ll never convince me that a banana can’t be peeled faster. Regardless, faster banana peeling is not the answer. Out of our common love for our daughter we must work together to teach her patience. A little girl capable of sitting and watching a banana ripen before even asking for it is her highest potential, and we must help her realize it.”
Then my wife and I will both be selfless patriots. And when some asshole full of empty promises comes into our house claiming we can have a bunch of pre-peeled bananas, hand-prepared by children in migrant detention camps — we will drive that motherfucking traitor out.