As another hallowed Memorial Day approached last week, I found myself once again surrounded by the jingoism and ostentatious pseudo-patriotism that too frequently turns our most sacrosanct national observances into cheap cliches.
My family and I were invited to a barbecue at a local yacht club where my wife’s aunt and uncle are members.
As we pulled up, Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” blasted across the parking lot. People stood under a tent at attention, mouthing the grammatically incorrect lyrics, lips quivering, before returning to their burgers and beer.
As we ushered the kids across the parking lot, I couldn’t help but notice the black pick-up truck with a semi-automatic rifle decal in the back window. As I got closer, I noticed the rifle actually formed the letter “K” in the slogan “FUCK OBAMA.”
A woman staggered past in a red “MAKE AMERICAN GREAT AGAIN” cap, settling at a table next to a man wearing an American flag t-shirt that read “TRY BURNING THIS ONE ASSHOLE.”
Later there was supposed to be fireworks, and, I’m sure, more patriotic cliches about “those that served.”
I sat there wondering:
How many of these grateful Americans ever read the Constitution and/or the Declaration of Independence or The Federalist Papers?
Do they know how many amendments are in the Bill of Rights? Have they ever volunteered for any political campaigns, participated in protests, voted in primaries, understand how a bill becomes a law? Can they identify the three branches of government?
Did any ever seriously weigh the qualities that already make America great against its glaring hypocrisies? If I engaged one of them in political discourse and criticized the current administration, would I be labeled a ‘traitor?’
There’s a reason I don’t brandish an American flag decal on the back of my car. I don’t cry during the National Anthem or wear a flag pin on my lapel.
Nowhere on my person or among my possessions will anyone find anything that says “God bless America.” I don’t fly the American flag from my front door.
I’ve read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence several times, though. I pour over United States history books for things I never learned in school. I assiduously follow the news, volunteer at a local food pantry, and with a local political activist group. I participated in the Women’s March and the Climate March. I canvassed and phone-banked for Barack Obama and Bernie Sanders.
I vote in every local and federal election–even primaries.
I don’t need to advertise gratitude toward my great-grandfather, a veteran of both World Wars; his son killed in Korea; or my father-in-law, a Vietnam War vet. I don’t need to wear my patriotism on my chest. I don’t need to fly a symbol from my house.
I don’t need to put my hand over my heart to understand what’s in it.
They – and millions of other unsung veterans – also fought for the arduous task of daily engagement in the democratic process, such as contacting our elected officials about how we want them to represent us, signing petitions, attending town hall meetings, getting involved in grassroots politics, and, yes, even questioning the military budget.
Maybe some at that barbecue do those things. I’m pretty sure, though, most do not, as most Americans do not.
We shouldn’t be “patriots” only on Memorial Day, Veterans’ Day, or the Fourth of July.
Tell your Republican member of Congress that next time he or she votes against increasing benefits for veterans. Remind him or her we do not have health care adequate enough to provide veterans the mental health services they need when they return from doing our dirty work.
We should be patriots every day. 365/24/7.
Featured Image Via Pixabay.