by Steven Yates
Patriotism is suddenly in vogue. American flags are everywhere on clothing, automobiles, storefronts, billboard advertisements, and so on. I believe I have seen more American flags in the past two months than in the previous two years. The same goes for the phrases "United We Stand" and "God Bless America." They are everywhere.
I've found myself spending time putting my finger on what is troublesome about the new patriotism. It is superficial. From somewhere I recall hearing a sarcastic, "Instant patriotism. Add water and stir." Real patriotism is not simply worn on your lapel, or flown from your car. Real patriotism costs something.
But that isn't it. Many things in life are superficial. That doesn't necessarily make them bad. More to the point is that the new patriots seem to applaud the federal powergrab of the past two months. At least, the new patriotism has no serious problems with it. After all, we're at war now, it says. It suggests we can no longer afford the convenience of a distinction between society and government, or between patriotism understood as loyalty to the ideals under which the country was founded and blind submission to the yahoos currently running it. So relatively few are complaining that the much-touted Patriot Act of 2001 which Bush the Younger just signed has all the ingredients for setting up a police state in America in the name of "homeland security." The entire campaign has the full backing of the dominant media, where you will find statements like, "Big government is back, and high time, too." Or: "The time has come to end the government-bashing of the past 20 years." (The truth, of course, is that the size and scope of the federal government increased over the past 20 years especially during the 1990s.)
So let's revisit real patriotism that kind that was here all along, but wasn't in vogue because it didn't kowtow to whatever came out of Washington, D.C. Real patriotism, alluded to already, is loyalty to your country understood as loyalty to the set of ideals under which it was founded. In our case, this means loyalty to the ideas of God-given rights that inhere in individuals, not in groups. It means responsibilities derived from a morality with a transcendent source, not "values" made up by human beings that differ from culture to culture (relativism), or deduced in some mysterious way from human nature. It means commitment to the idea that government may be a necessary evil, given sinful man, but as the product of men, government should be limited to a few and carefully specified functions. That was the purpose of the U.S. Constitution, to describe the structure and functions of the various branches of government, and (after the struggle between the so-called federalists and so-called anti-federalists) to enumerate rights. And it is important that the portion of the Constitution known as the Bill of Rights enumerates rights; it does not create them out of thin air. It is one of the more interesting delusions of modernity that it is possible for human beings, especially those in government, to create rights. Following these provisions consistently means maintaining a society committed to the rule of law, not rule by political elites or gangs of criminals (sometimes they are the same thing).
Finally, it should go without saying that no political leader loyal to the Constitution is going to embark on an agenda which any thinking person must soon realize cannot be accomplished without setting up a global empire. The desire to retaliate against the thugs who destroyed the World Trade Center and part of the Pentagon is quite understandable. I understand, "Let's roll." However, an undeclared "war" to eradicate all the bullies, tyrants, sociopaths and misfits out there is not the answer. Assuming that the al Qaeda network is responsible for what happened on September 11, we are talking about a highly decentralized entity that spans many countries, and possibly connects to other such entities not taking marching orders from Osama bin Laden. No one, of course, knows for sure. But the limited "successes" in Afghanistan are already being cited as a possible pretext to a new invasion of Iraq even though I am aware of no evidence connecting Saddam Hussein to the September 11 attacks. It could be a pretext to an invasion of still more nations. Talk about a recipe for generating still more hatred of the "Great Satan" in the Muslim world!
The question has been asked before: how would we even know when we defeated this network? A cessation of activities might just mean that its remaining leaders have gone underground until the heat died down. Bush Jr.'s Marines might get bin Laden before the year is out. My guess: they'll "accidentally" shoot him rather than bring him to the U.S. for what would quickly turn into the biggest media circus since the O.J. Simpson show. But I recall hearing the phrase somewhere, "One dead martyr is worth ten living leaders."
It is worth pointing out that FBI agents have known for several years that there were terrorists on U.S. soil some of them here illegally and some of them here simply because of our absurdly lax immigration laws. There was evidence long before September 11 that something was up. The federal government could have stopped it, but the Clinton / Reno Regime wasn't interested; the Bush Jr. / Ashcroft one has followed suit. The point is, we've known for years that a major terrorist attack could happen.
Where does all this leave the new patriotism? It is embarrassingly obvious that flying the federal flag hardly counts as loyalty to the ideals spelled out in the Constitution. (Most of the "public school" graduates flying these flags probably could not tell you what is in the Constitution.) Be this as it may, I do not recall either Bush Jr. or Ashcroft so much as mentioning the Constitution in any of their public statements. Has anyone besides Ron Paul (R-Tx) examined the new Patriot Act of 2001 with an eye to whether or not the Constitution authorizes its various provisions? Does it authorize the kinds of wiretapping of private conversations, etc., that Ashcroft has been talking about? Does it authorize overriding attorney-client privilege? Does it authorize holding several hundred people of Middle Eastern origin for days on end in undisclosed locations without charging them with any crime?
And so we must declare the new patriotism to be a pseudo-patriotism something following closely on the heels of the past 12 years rather than repudiating them. Political correctness has shifted in emphasis somewhat to accommodate the country's new crisis mode it is now barely permissible to criticize either U.S. foreign policy or the feds' domestic efforts to deal with the alleged emergency. Feelings are still what count: the federal flag is serving the same function as Linus's security blanket. I presume the people flying it from their cars feel supremely good about themselves. Meanwhile, the feds' efforts to deal with the whatever threats really exist of acts of further terror on U.S. soil would be laughable if they weren't so annoying: people having cigarette lighters and nail-clippers confiscated by security personnel at airports, for example. A couple of weeks ago, an innocent indiscretion by a man in a hurry to retrieve a camera turned into a fiasco that shut down Atlanta's Hartsfield International Airport for three hours. Now the man may face a huge civil lawsuit over something that wouldn't have even raised eyebrows three months ago. Welcome to the New America! There have been other fiascoes of this nature at airports. Meanwhile, it is clear that those who wish to can get real weapons past these buffoons, if they so choose. The federal government has done nothing about whatever terrorist threats currently exist in this country except to make matters worse.
Is this really the direction we want to go as a society?
I concur readily with anyone who says so that the people who blew up the World Trade Center were sociopaths, and I doubt they are presently getting rewards from Allah for murdering innocent people in cold blood! The Taliban, former rulers of Afghanistan, were indeed a repressive, barely civilized gang whose rank and file did not question authority. Much of the Middle East is like that. (Somewhere in here is an argument against the silly multiculturalism of the past 12 years holding that cultures can mix indiscriminately while maintaining their cultural identity. But that's another column.)
If we allow this country to turn quietly but openly into a police state, saying nothing as our "leaders" build up an internationalist empire in the name of eradicating terrorism, then the terrorists will have won. They will have won by having destroyed the things that made this country worth defending. Worse yet, our own political elites will have done the job for them. We will not have defeated them; we will have become just like them, solving our problems through brute force and mass murder. The new (pseudo) patriots see none of this. But they had better start looking.