Sunday, July 15, 2018

Patriotism, Nationalism and a Letter from Bobby Kennedy

There's a meme going around on social media.  It's called Patriotism vs. Nationalism.  Sounds like a distinction work making, doesn't it?  Yet, I was offended when I first watched it. 

Why? Well, let me start by focusing on the “vs.” or versus in the title.  The post was initially promoted by a group with a Facebook page called America Versus.  Should every topic worth discussing start by positioning it as oppositional?

In Patriotism vs. Nationalism, the 3-minute video correctly defines the difference between the terms and supports its POV with snippets from liberal icons including President Obama, Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Martin Luther King, Jr., all of whom promote the idea that dissent is patriotic.  There are no quotes or video snippets supporting an alternative POV.  There is simply the implication that those who disagree are less intelligent than those who do.

Now, to be clear, I agree with the distinction being made. So, why am I offended?  Because we are better than this.  This video is intended to further polarize us.  If you are liberal, it feeds your confirmation bias.  If its producers had wanted to get conservatives to think about or reconsider their view, they might have used quotes from the founders.  For example, here’s what Thomas Jefferson said on the subject:

"The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it to be always kept alive. It will often be exercised when wrong, but better so than not to be exercised at all. I like a little rebellion now and then."

The person who posted the video is someone I consider to be a friend despite our political differences.  (Yes, that’s possible.)  I didn’t respond to his post.  I simply sent him a video that approaches our differences differently: an 8-minute video from PBS discussing the origins of our political beliefs.  If you take the time to watch it, you’ll recognize friends and neighbors – people whose company you enjoy.  To me, it offers us the space to consider how people develop different values and the perspective not to hate those with whom we may disagree.  At some level, it creates empathy. 

I would rather start any political discussion there, not with the word versus in the headline. 

Many pundits date the beginning of the culture war to the 60’s.  Barry Goldwater ran for president from the extreme right wing and was defeated by the liberal LBJ.  The Supreme Court gave us Miranda Rights and banned prayer in school.  The war in Vietnam divided the country.  African Americans protested Jim Crow laws in the Deep South.  The country was divided then as it is now.

In its midst, I received a letter from Bobby Kennedy.  It’s dated May 29, 1967, a year and a few days before he was gunned down in Los Angeles.  It’s framed and hangs on the wall above my desk.  Bobby Kennedy ran for president in 1968 from the liberal left.  Today, I would not agree with his politics or policy prescriptions.  Yet, his letter hangs over my desk because none of that mattered then nor does it matter now.  He simply expressed that he knew that my “family must be very proud” that the US Navy had offered me a scholarship and that he “would like to join with … friends and family in offering … congratulations.”

I am sure he wrote thousands of those letters while serving as New York’s representative in the U.S. Senate.  I am sure that every member of Congress has long sent similar letters.  Yet, it’s special to me because it’s a touchstone.  Yes, I know that nostalgia improves our memories of times gone by.  However, I remember the 60’s as a time when, divided as we might have been, we were able to move forward as a nation.  Social media didn’t exist and mass media wasn’t engaged in trying to divide us.

The problem I have with the versus crowd is not what they have to say or what they believe.  It’s the laziness of their approach.  It’s this or that.   If this is good, that must be bad.  If you don’t believe this, you must believe that.  If this is good and that is bad, you must be bad.  People are complex and life is complicated.  The world isn’t divided into binary choices of good and evil.


WHO WILL LEAD?


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