No, America Is Not “Irredeemably” Evil. Democrats: Show Our Love of Country
Democrats have long gotten a bad rap — and a bad rep — from Republicans. Somehow, the conventional knowledge now goes, Republicans are the flag-waving patriots and Democrats “hate” America.
This bad rap was brought home vividly for me in late 2009. I had just given a talk on my commentary titled “Recovery Without a Reckoning,” about Wall Street’s recovery from the 2008 financial crash — the crash it caused but from which it appeared to learn little, going back to its old risky ways.
Afterwards, a man came up to me and introduced himself as a Republican. He said he gathered from the publicity for the event that I was a Democrat, but he came anyway because of the word “Reckoning” in my talk’s title: He remained a free-marketer but he agreed with my argument that Wall Street needed to factor in Main Street far more than it had in the past and, going forward, post-crash. And, yes, there was a moral aspect at issue, thus the reckoning: Wall Street’s continuing heedlessness of Main Street was wrong. I said I loved this country too much too see its beautiful principles abused.
This was when he — Mike — made the point that has stayed with me: “I wish I heard other Democrats say they loved this country,” he said. “I never hear that.” He went on: Democrats seem only to criticize America, run her down (I remember he said “her”), and they never express love of country. In the warmth of our exchange, I suddenly could see how Mike, a conscientious Republican, perceived “the other side.” We ended with a handshake and thanks.
I have continued thinking of what Mike said, because I think he has a point.
But the bad rap has continued and, in the extreme polarization now besetting us, it drives — inflames — rhetoric. Sadly, it suffuses the editorial pages of our lead conservative paper, The Wall Street Journal, which, in addition to our alleged America-hating, propagates other categorical (and wrong) thinking: that Democrats “blame America first,” that as “elites” we sneer at regular Americans, that we want a “radical,” “socialist” revolution in this country.
In the Journal, the word “irredeemable” became attached to our alleged America-hating in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, by a white police officer (here, here, here, and here). Where Democrats see that heinous act as the clearest possible evidence of white supremacy and systemic racism — the white man kept his knee on the Black man’s neck for an eternity, clearly unconcerned about accountability — the Journal sees America-hatred. One columnist decries Democrats’ aim to “overturn a pervasive, irredeemably racist American social structure,” another decries Democrats lecturing on “the nation’s irredeemable sinfulness.” The words “irredeemable,” and “racial grievance industry,” have become tics.
And the Journal’s Peggy Noonan wrote this about the Democratic national convention: “[A]part from the ‘We The People’ gauziness, there was a nonstop hum of grievance at the convention. To show their ferocious sincerity in the struggle against America’s injustices, most of the speakers thought they had to beat the crap out of the country — over and over. Its sins: racism, sexism, bigotry, violence, xenophobia, being unwelcoming to immigrants. The charges, direct and indirect, never let up. Little love was expressed, little gratitude. Everyone was sort of overcoming being born here.”
Stuck in categorical (and wrong) thinking, the Journal cannot grasp that, the more one loves something, in this case America, the more one hurts when it has gone wrong, or when the beloved object, again America, has betrayed its own principles. Democratic friends tell me the image of Mr. Floyd dying under the white man’s knee is staying as vividly with them as the falling of the Twin Towers on 9/11 — and that the shame of it “shoved” them into the streets to protest, which protest the Journal too often conflates with “riot.”
But Noonan has a point, as did Mike from my earlier encounter: Democrats do not often state outright our love of country. Why is that? Perhaps it is because we tend to argue from a policy standpoint (see: Affordable Care Act) or in the abstract (see: Justice), both of which can seem divorced from feeling, especially the more vigorously we argue our point. Or perhaps we look at Republican hypocrisy — waving the flag while dismantling democratic norms and institutions — and decide we don’t want that, to get into a contest of flag-waving. But: In not openly expressing love of country, we do leave ourselves open to a bad rap on our rep. So, let’s declare it outright now: Democrats do love America — profoundly.
Unlike Donald Trump…. Pray tell, Republicans, Wall Street Journal: By what conceivable measure can Trump’s actions — from his “American carnage” Inaugural to his present refusal to accept the upcoming election’s result or his encouraging armed militias to “stand back and stand by” — ever be interpreted as love of country? What higher end, apart from his own aggrandizement, has Trump been after? (Time’s up.) That Republicans and the Journal still — still! — rally around Trump is evidence they see the 2020 election only as a political contest, not the existential one Democrats do.
And it is because of this existential, life-or-death reason — American democracy is in peril, can we save it? — that Democrats should break an old habit and sing out our profound love of America, at each and every turn.
Like The Washington Post’s liberal columnist Ruth Marcus did, in a 2017 column whose title I still remember three years later: “I Have Never Loved My Country More.” Writing of some Trump outrage now outnumbered by multitudes more, Marcus opened with “I have never respected a president less, nor loved my country more” and closed noting “the patriotism Trump has awoken, in me and so many others. Because our fundamental fight is not against Trump. It is for America.”
Which prompts me to express my own love of America — happily, gratefully.
In the years after 9/11, when America stumbled into war in Iraq, I was lamenting to a friend, whose rejoinder was, “You are such an idealist,” not meant as a compliment. But, thinking about it, I took it as a compliment: Yes, I responded later, I am an idealist — because America herself is built on the ideal, and they are the most beautiful ideals in human (versus kingly) history: equality, fair play, rule of law, self-governance, second chances. But: America has never achieved these ideals, not in their totality and not for all our citizens — but if we did, if we finally delivered on our foundational ideals, I feel we would be golden, America would enter a Golden Age. And it is in my revulsion of Donald Trump — all right, my near-hatred of the man, engendered precisely because of the injury he has inflicted on America the Beautiful — that I have come to recognize how profoundly beautiful and dear and vital those ideals are. I keep thinking of the French proverb: “Only good things can be abused”: Trump, and the Republicans, have taken a singularly good thing in human history and abused it nearly into the ground. But, believing in second chances — in redeemability — and believing it with all my heart, I believe we can turn this titanic struggle into rebirth — a Renaissance.
Wow, that felt good! Love elevates! Out of the Slough of Despond….
Join me, fellow Democrats. Express our love of country in whatever forum: Zoom town-halls and meet-ups, letters to the editor (print is forever!), all the better if in mixed political company. Who knows: In the 23 days left until the election of our lifetime, hearing such love may sway an undecided voter or one understandably so discouraged by all the venom that he/she swore off voting ever again. Finally: Expressing such love is tonic for our own souls — and for America the Beautiful herself.
I have never loved my country more.