I love this country.

To some degree I respect everyone with whom I share it.

So why do I make a point of saying this now?

Because I’m trying to reassure myself that I still know what love of country is – that I am patriotic.
As I hear the term patriotism being bandied about across the land, from one side of the political divide to the other, I’m not so sure I do.

My convictions are shaken.

Part of the problem, I think, is that I have tended to shape my patriotism by looking for what’s right with our country.

“Right,” not “perfect.”

There seems to be so much more emphasis now in seeking out what’s wrong with this admittedly imperfect nation and even more than that, identifying those to blame for that perceived wrong.

Once we have someone we can blame for things going on that we don’t like, then we can get angry with them We can vent in a way that could be characterized as a display of patriotism.

Take the weekly drawing of the patriotic lines on football fields from one end of the country to the other. Players, coaches, owners, fans…all of us…can participate in the national anthem, on key or off key, and be seen as “patriots.”

Or turn our backs on the anthem and the flag, figuratively and directly and also be declared by ourselves and others to be “patiriots.

And those on each side of that display and all their supporters can be angry about something and someone.
The other day while browsing through the magazine section at the Burien Library, I came across a publication I’d never seen before, “Skeptic” magazine.

As I flipped through it the words “justice” and “fairness” caught my eye, and I found myself browsing through an article about the role of anger in identifying societal problems and wanting to do something about them.

Consider this paragraph:

“Anger draws attention to a problem, but it’s the next step that is the hard one — doing something about it. This is why conversations across political lines frequently devolve into exasperated explosions. Neither side wants to change its mind or accept that the other side might have a point.”

Might patriotism lead to anger as we strike out at those with whom we disagree on questions of human rights and obligations? I think so. Would patriotism also be the stimulus that would take us to that “next step” of seeking solutions in the best interest of our nation — our world– and all of us in it? Maybe.
At the very least I find this is another way to take stock of my own patriotism and how I employ it.

It’s also another thing to contemplate as I wait for one kickoff or another this Sunday.

Cliff Rowe is a retired journalist and journalism professor. (He practiced both in a time before journalists and what they produced were considered “enemies of the people.”) He and his family have lived in the Shorewood area of White Center (then Burien) since 1969 when they returned to the Northwest after seven years in the Chicago area. There, following graduate school, he wrote and edited with the Chicago Sun-Times and with Paddock Publications in the Chicago suburbs. On moving here, he was with The Seattle Times for 11 years before turning to teaching journalism at Pacific Lutheran University for 35 years, retiring in 2015.

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2 replies on “CLIFF’S EDGE: Get angry, but for a worthwhile purpose…”

  1. Patriotisim is the last refuge of a scoundrel — Samuel Johnson
    And fascism hides behind angry Nationalism — Me (and history)
    Not everything can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced — James Baldwin
    Getting the kind of angry that Nationalists do calls the wrong kind of attention to most things. It fosters the very things you mentioned Cliff. And it does not change anything, it only makes it worse. Facing it with resistance is a start, but it is not the finish.
    Patriotism is closer to JFK’s words about what you can do for your country that contributes to making it a better place for all, not just you and those you personally know.

    1. I appreciate your response as it added a few turns to the direction I was heading. I’m particularly intrigued with the emphasis on nationalism. I don’t consider myself a nationalist, but I’m putting a little more thought into that. The more I learn the more curious I become.

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