My New Book!

My New Book!
My New Book!

Saturday, July 9, 2022

July 9-10, 2022: 4th of July Contexts: Patriotism in 2022 America

[In honor of the 4th of July, this week’s series has highlighted various historical and cultural contexts for this uniquely American holiday. Leading up to this special weekend post on patriotism in 2022!]

In Of Thee I Sing, I trace four types of patriotism across American history. The first, celebratory patriotism, has been relatively constant, but the other three have continued to evolve, so in this post I wanted to say a bit about where I see each of them here in mid-2022:

1)      Mythic patriotism: Over the last few months there have been a number of stories about rising white Christian Nationalism, many connected to this important recent book by Philip Gorski and Sam Perry. In Of Thee I Sing I resisted using the term “nationalism,” as I find it distinct from (and significantly more dangerous than) what I would want to define as “patriotism.” But there’s no doubt that my category of mythic patriotism is quite far along the spectrum toward nationalism, and more exactly that the myths on which this form of patriotism depend have consistently featured both white- and –Christian centered visions of America. Even when these narratives are not overtly white supremacist (and I think it’s important to recognize that they can be more benign than that), they begin with the idea that the American community was at any point fundamentally white and/or Christian—and so a significant goal of my ongoing work, on patriotism and on America, is to push back on those narratives as the myths that they have always been.

2)      Active patriotism: One of the questions I’ve been asked a good bit, in book talks and in adult learning classes and in various other settings, has been “What can we do?” I’m not going to pretend that there are clear or easy answers to that, nor that I don’t face the same frustration and sense of hopelessness at times as well. But one of the main reasons I wanted to include this category in my book is to push back on the idea that patriotism, or civic engagement, or citizenship, or anything we might aspire to is passive, is about accepting things as they are or have been. Celebratory patriotism might be relatively passive—but if we recognize that there’s an alternative, active form of patriotism as well, it frees us to think about actions like voting, like organizing, like protesting as all expressions of a patriotic commitment to the nation. There’s a lot we can do, and in doing any and all of it we’re extending the legacy of some of our most inspiring active patriotic figures and communities.

3)      Critical patriotism: There’s another layer to it, though. “What can we do?” isn’t just an expression of hopelessness—it’s also, quite often these days, an understandable cynicism, a sense that things are very bad on so many fronts and far too many of those in power don’t seem to care (or at least not enough to fight). Perhaps the single biggest reason I wanted to write the book was to challenge the idea that such understandable (and accurate) critiques are and must be separate from patriotism—that’s mythic patriotism talking, advancing the “love it or leave it” narrative. I really detest that narrative, as I believe not just that critical patriotism is an important form that always needs to be in the conversation, but that in many ways it’s the most important form precisely for this reason: that it reminds us that criticizing something with the goal of pushing it toward the best version of its self is absolutely a form of love, and in many ways the highest form. And, without doubt, one that we desperately need to advocate for and practice here in 2022.

Next series starts Monday,


PS. What do you think?

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