Patriotism in America
There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.
- Former President Bill Clinton
How does a bastard, orphan, son of a whore
And a Scotsman, dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot
In the Caribbean by Providence, impoverished, in squalor
Grow up to be a hero and a scholar?
- "Alexander Hamilton", Lin-Manuel Miranda
Fun fact - when I was looking for the source of the first quote above I was fairly certain it was actually said by President Reagan, not Clinton.
Some of my European and Asian/Pacific friends are puzzled by American patriotism, seeing it as strange to be proud of something that is an accident of birth. And some of my more conservative friends wonder how liberals can consider themselves patriotic, always complaining about the bad things the United States has done.
Let me give you my own view. It is strongly informed by the Catholic social justice teachings I received at Sacred Heart High School as well as a member of Saint Thomas Aquinas church at the University of Connecticut. My belief in the divine has pretty much atrophied but those social justice teachings remain. I'm sure any Jesuits out there will get a chuckle out of that (St. Thomas Aquinas was Jesuit-run for the bulk of time I was at UConn).
I was taught and I believe that patriotism is a love of one's country. It is not a blind love - it acknowledges faults and wants to fix them. I was taught nationalism was "my country, right or wrong". When I hear someone say "America - love it or leave it!" I consider that an exampe of nationalism.
I also think the United States is unusual in that for many of us, being American was a choice - a choice made by ourselves, our parents, grandparents, or great-grandparents. Aside from descendants of Native Americans (who were treated shamefully by the United States and by Europe) and the descendants of African slaves, most Americans are here because someone wanted to be an American. And I'm in awe as to how former slaves and their descendants have shown such love for a country that treated them or their ancestors so shamefully.
What that means is the history of America is my history, despite, as far as my delving into Ancestry.com can tell, my family history in the United States does not begin until the early 20th century. Despite that I am connected to men like George Washington or repeatedly refused power and showed his belief in a republican government. I'm also connected to men like Geoerge Washington who benefited from the forced labor of slaves. And I'm also connected to men like George Washington who, due to his life experiences, began to regret slavery, freeing all of his slaves upon his death. As you can see, George Washington is, in my mind, a great example of everything that is both right and wrong with America. Capable of great things but also capable of doing wrongs. But perhaps most importantly, able to look at himself and make himself batter. Make himself perfect? No, he didn't come close to doing that. But I imagine George Washington of 1775 would have been surprised at the views on slavery he would have at the end of his life.
As a white American I'm connected to generations of white men who benefited from forced labor and a virtual racial caste system. But as an American I'm also connected to Doctor Martin Luther King who challenged America to be better. I'm connected to President Lyndon B. Johnson who despite some clearly racist views, forced through the largest civil rights legislation of the 20th century. I'm connected to President Ronald Reagan who came into office viewing the Soviet Union as the evil empire and who came to view nuclear weapons with absolute horror, taking advantage of a moment of openness in the Soviet Union to achieve substantial reduction in nuclear arms. And I'm connected to the Ronald Reagan who ignored the AIDS crisis. Very little is all good and very little is all bad.
When I look at the musical Hamilton I see a creator who gets this ownership of American history, regardless of your own background. Men and women of color playing Revolutionary-era slave owners was, in my opinion, a work of genius. Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton belong to all Americans.