“Politics, as a practice, whatever its professions, has always been the systematic organization of hatreds.” – Henry Brooks Adams (1838-1918), historian descended from family line of two U.S. presidents
For more than a generation, and for nearly as long as “The New West” has existed as a column, I routinely penned a holiday installment asking the question, “What would Jesus do?”
The point, of course, was to gently and sometimes, not so gently, make ironic allusions to hypocrisy practiced by Christians living their daily lives very differently from biblical wisdom they claim to espouse.
In these times when some citizens insist that a certain political party—and it alone—has cornered the market on Americans’ love for country, what better moment for reflection than the Fourth of July during this colorful year of the Trump administration?
First, let’s consider an admonition from George Washington. The country’s original president and perhaps the last to ever be mythologized for never telling a lie, offered insight.Washington dispensed it on Sept. 19, 1796, when he declined to serve another term as this country’s chief executive: “If I may even flatter myself, that [these counsels] may be productive of some partial benefit, some occasional good; that they may now and then recur to moderate the fury of party spirit, to warn against the mischiefs of foreign intrigue, to guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”
With Washington’s words in mind, what do you think is the true meaning of patriotism?
Is it more patriotic to fasten a lapel pin of the Stars and Stripes to your business suit than to, in practice, wear the real values of this nation humbly on your sleeve?
Is it patriotic to put self-interest ahead of country?
Is it more patriotic to serve in a military uniform fighting in a foreign war than to don the uniform of police and fire departments protecting the homefront?
Is there greater patriotic honor in being a soldier than a public school teacher, career national park ranger or person who spent their working years faithfully delivering the mail?
Is it more patriotic to have fought in armed conflict or to have pulled political strings in order to avoid military service?
Is it more honorable to sacrifice one’s life in an unjust war promoted by politicians with corrupt motivations or to protest such conflicts by taking to the streets?
Is it patriotic to say that health care should only be made available to those who can afford it rather than the desperate who need it most?
Is it patriotic to exploit every possible loophole to avoid paying taxes?
Is it patriotic for partisan politicians (right or left) to bring the function of government to a standstill by refusing to compromise in the middle?
Is it patriotic to be known as a president and staff who chronically tell untruths and never apologize for it?
Is it patriotic to be a major politician and not release your tax returns as all of your predecessors did before you?
Is it patriotic to condemn the threat of violent Islam and yet whip up the flames of hatred in your own country toward fellow citizens by pandering to domestic extremists?
Is it patriotic to avoid denouncing, and taking severe punitive action, against a foreign power that tried to hijack America’s sacred democratic election system?
Is it patriotic to be a member of Congress and avoid holding town hall meetings because you don’t want to confront the ire of your own constituents?
Is it patriotic to be in favor of divesting federal public lands—a birthright of all Americans—to states that can’t afford to manage them or to support selling off those same lands to private interests that would exclude citizens from using them?
Is it patriotic to deny the existence of human-caused climate change in the face of incontrovertible scientific evidence?
Is it being patriotic to say, as wingnut radio and TV commentators do, that if a president is found guilty of committing crimes and subsequently impeached, it would be grounds for fighting a second civil war?
Is it patriotic for veteran politicians, who served in elected office, to now sit silently on the sidelines and not condemn destructive behavior by members of their own party when surely they would have called out such conduct if it occurred on the other side of the aisle?
Most of us know patriotism, the kind memorialized on the Fourth of July, as being about devotion to country above all else. House Speaker Paul Ryan declared not long ago: “Exploiting people’s emotions of fear, envy and anxiety is not hope, it’s not change, it’s partisanship. We don’t need partisanship. We don’t need demagoguery, we need solutions.”
We also don’t need more hypocrisy masquerading as patriotism.
Todd Wilkinson has been writing his award-winning column, The New West, for nearly 30 years. Living in Bozeman, he is author of “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” about famous Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear 399 featuring 150 photographs by Tom Mangelsen, available only at mangelsen.com/grizzly. His profile of Montana politician Max Baucus appears in the summer 2017 issue of Mountain Outlaw and is now on newsstands.