I am a native Washingtonian and have always lived in the northeast corner of the most northwest of the 48 contiguous states. As a child who only watched football during bowl games, I had a very simple way of deciding who I would root for. I sided with the university located farthest west. If both were from the west, the tie-breaker was which school was farther north. If it was WSU Cougars vs. UW Huskies, then go Cougs! It was a simple, childish tribal impulse of hometown allegiance applied to something that is essentially meaningless (sorry about that, sports fans, but its only football!).
My senior year in high school, as the Vietnam War was winding down, two popular cliques planned demonstrations, one supporting the US government and one opposing the war and our country. As a long time member of the band and science fair geeks, I was momentarily impressed at being asked by the popular kids to take a side. On the appointed day, I proudly wore my US flag armband to school. When my father saw it at home, he sat me down and drilled me on my reasons. Knowing he would not be impressed with a response based on popularity, I had to dig deeper in my own psyche as to why I made my choice. It wasn’t mere tribalism, it was the lessons I had learned from studying our country’s history and traveling with my dad, the constant history teacher. I love this country, and the values and principles it was founded on. We fall short sometimes (perhaps too often), but to me the flag symbolizes the best of our aspirations and our history. We have an unenviable foundation and a responsibility to maintain the structure of our republic out of respect for those who have worked and sacrificed before us.
A columnist for the Los Angeles Times, Joel Stein, recently wrote in a column headlined in our local paper “GOP Blinded By Love” that he has come to believe conservatives are right – we do love our country more than liberals. He does not think this is a good thing. He theorizes the conservative’s love of country is an unthinking, undeserved tribalism of birthplace, while he personally would have felt equally blessed to have been born in any wealthy democracy. He fears the absolute extremism of love (our country is better than yours) as a dangerous thing.
I’ve traveled and talked with enough people around the country and the world to know there is a grain of truth in Joel’s analysis. There is a tribal component to love of country that comes when you have roots in a place and culture, but it’s not the whole story. A mature love of country, the kind that conservative Americans are willing to express, is broader and deeper and founded on common principles and shared values. We are a country of immigrants who left their place and culture to come here and claim America as their own because of what we stand for. We invented a new kind of government – of the people, by the people and for the people - and we’re still working on getting it right.
Republicans aren’t blinded by love, we’ve made a conscious commitment. Ironically, Joel Stein understands what he’s missing but just can’t make the commitment. He ends his column by saying he’ll never experience the joy of patriotism because he’s always wondering if some other place or system is better, and “as I figured out shortly after meeting my wife, that is no way to love.” How sad for Joel and liberals like him who cannot make a commitment. It takes real commitment to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States of America.