19 May 2008

My patriotism can beat up your patriotism

Far be it from me to defend sadsack decent liberal Todd Gitlin, but I'll link to this post by Sam Boyd at TAPPED, because David Frum's reaction to Gitlin is very instructive--perhaps unintentionally so--on how diehard jingoes rationalize their patriotism.

Frum writes:
Gitlin tries to distinguish between the fearfully flawed United States as it is - and the reformed country into which the United States might evolve. It is the latter, hypothetical, country that deserves patriotic affection. But there is this one problem: that hypothetical country does not as yet exist. This is not patriotism - it is a wish fantasy
.To which Boyd says:
This then, is Frum's real problem. For Frum, it doesn't mater what America has actually done -- acknowledging America's faults makes you unpatriotic by definition. Unless you have a Panglossian view of America -- that it's the best possible country imaginable -- then you're not a patriot.
This is correct. The jingoist view of America is basically Calvinist; America creates goodness simply by acting in the world, and the proof of America's greatness is simply the actuality of past events. America willed them into being, and her will is, by definition, omnibenevolent.

Frum does, unwittingly, stumble onto a nut in Gitlin's hapless I TOO CAN HAZ UR PATRIOTISM? performance.
If we were wrong, he wants to say, we were wrong for good cause, wrong for admirable motives, wrong because we were in some deeper sense right. In his telling, anti-Americanism may be a fault, yes, but only the sort of fault to which over-eager applicants confess in job interviews. "My faults? I just care too darn much!"
This is why, as I wrote in an earlier post, the liberal flavor of patriotic posturing is often more insidious than the vanilla proto-fascism of the likes of Frum. What Gitlin and others who like this path are effectively saying is, to put a twist on a popular evangelical bumper sticker, "America isn't perfect, just forgiven." Insofar as America fails the rest of the planet, it's only because we aren't living up to the higher standard of righteousness God (or whomever) has set for us. They won't hear any talk from troublesome hippies about the corrosive effects of global hegemony, in spite of all the evidence they still hold fast naively to the promise of an imperial gentle giant.*

I'm already beginning to see the "liberals are the real patriots" meme sprout up this election season over Barack and Michelle Obama's supposed deficiency. For once, I'd like to see someone respond to allegations of insufficient loyalty by declaring superstitious belief on the superiority of the arbitrary nation-state where you were born is irrelevant. But I'm not holding my breath on that front.

*I immediately thought of the Alliance in Joss Whedon's Serenity when I wrote this sentence as an example of an essentially well-meaning juggernaut whose quest to control the known universe frequently sparks resentment and conflict.