It’s been a curious week for patriotism in the Not Particularly United States of America.
First, there’s the flack and fracas over Megan Rapinoe, the purple-haired, self-avowed lesbian who somewhat single-handedly is chewing up the rest of the world and spitting it out at the quadrennial Women’s World Cup in France to the joy of millions of supporters of Team USA.
Ms. Rapinoe, like some other athletes (and some other Americans, for that matter) is apparently not fully on-board with the Donald Trump juggernaut as it churns its way through the politics and cultural sensibilities of the American landscape.
She has made clear, with the kind of screw-you syntax employed by many these days, that she would be disinclined to accept an invitation to the White House at the conclusion of the World Cup.
For this, she has been widely criticized.
Hold that thought.
Meanwhile, our president recently decided that Americans needed a refresher course in the devastating strength of our military. To educate us he ordered up the biggest, baddest, show and tell ever. Tanks were parked alongside national monuments, and a great deal of air power flew overhead. Mr. Trump, to quote Shakespeare, let slip the dogs of war on the streets of the nation’s capital. The crowd was appropriately awed by all the firepower, and, presumably, by the Commander in Chief who controls it. Sure, it was expensive, but cost be darned. Tack it on to the deficit.
Call me cynical, but I was underwhelmed. Before Thursday did any of you have any doubt about whether our military is the world’s biggest and best? After all, we spend more on our military than the next seven nations in the world combined.
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But Thursday’s optics were magnificent. It reminded me of the Cold War days, when legions of troops and missiles rolled in front of the Kremlin, while autocrats stood above it all and waved to the grim-faced People’s Army below.
This, we were taught in school, is what totalitarian countries do. They bluster and intimidate with force. Americans lead by the quiet certitude of the rightness of our cause. And besides, we were taught, everyone knows that we could destroy the world if we wanted to. That kind of strength doesn’t need bragging.
So, personally, all the military muscle-flexing this week left me a little cold. I thought America was better than that, and I liked being better than that. Surely there is more to honor on the Fourth of July than our unquestioned ability to wage war on other nations. Armies, tanks, and supersonic jets don’t make my heart soar to be an American. We obviously need them, and I’m glad we have them. But what makes my American heart soar is CARE packages to nations in distress. Habitat for Humanity makes my heart soar. So does the Salvation Army, Deseret Industries, and the Peace Corps. When America bends to help others, instead of just poking them in the eye—that’s when my heart soars. And believe it or not, peaceful dissent in the land I love makes my heart soar.
Which leads us back to Megan Rapinoe. Why are we still moved to outrage when an American citizen disagrees with its leaders? Since when is peaceful dissent with the status quo un-American?
But that’s power for you. When you’ve got it, anyone who disagrees is a threat. When you don’t have it, the freedom to speak your mind—foolishly or convincingly—is what separates us from those countries whose citizens move in cowering lock-step under the gaze of the Fearless Leader waving smugly from the palace porch.
On this Fourth of July, the question of whether you can peacefully disagree with the powerful and still be a patriotic American should no longer be an open debate.
After all, if anyone has recently benefited from unfettered free speech it is Donald Trump—whose lock-her-up rhetoric was abhorred by many, but still peacefully won him an election. It seems odd to me that now he’s taking time out of his busy days to bust the chops of an American woman taking on the world to bring fame and honor to the warts-and-all country she proudly calls home.