Today is a day or ironies. George Bush is visiting Thomas Jefferson’s beloved Monticello on this the 232nd anniversary of our declaration of independence from a king named George. As Jefferson warned that Americans would have to be ever on their guard against those who might turn the presidency into the tool of their “elected despotism,” I doubt he would be greeting Bush.
We live in a time where the very freedoms bought at so great a price by the founding fathers are being left in shreds. Dick Cheney has successfully convinced Americans they are safer with a “unitary executive.” How have American’s bought into this lie? This is the thing the founders were most interested in guarding against.
We have become a country comfortable with torture, willing to accept indefinite detention of both Citizens and non-citizens without benefit of habeas corpus, and we have come to believe we can trade our freedoms for security. We now have neither.
In another ironic twist, Jesse Helms, 86 year old retired Senator from North Carolina died today. All the pundits will take to the airwaves to talk of how Jesse Helms was a great American…a real patriot. Jesse Helms was neither, and will be someday acknowledged as the father of divisive politics in America. It is from Helms that political operatives learned how to use scapegoats and fear mongering to turn Americans against some enemy (even themselves) in order to further their own political aims.
Karl Rove perfected the technique, but Jesse Helms is the man who developed it. When the Soviet Union fell and Helms lost his primary enemy, he learned he could create an inside threat. First, it was gay people in general, then, as manna from God came AIDS, and Jesse could attack Gays as public health enemies who deserved what they got. Despite what you will read and hear, on this 4th of July, America lost not a patriot, but one of it’s greatest enemies.
Some find hope in the Obama candidacy. I hope it sparks a renewal of the American Spirit, but great damage has been done, and it will take much to reverse the decline of the great American Experiment. I hope he can inspire an American renewal, but my enthusiasm is tempered.
On this day when we pause to consider Patriotism, I find it being attacked on all sides. The first great precept of Patriotism is the right and obligation to question the leaders of government. The current government insists that to question them is to be unpatriotic. We squabble over what a person wears on his lapel, but I tell you that those who demand these superfluous shows are usually the least patriotic, but we take up their cause with enthusiasm.
Patriotism, true patriotism, is not found in a lapel pin, but in the soul. I find patriotism in the trembling hands of an American Veteran wearing his American Legion hat and proudly raising his hand in salute during the Presentation of The Colors. I know patriotism when I feel that chill run up my spine as I look at the flag flying in the mountain breeze against a brilliantly blue North Carolina sky while the ASU Marching Band plays the National Anthem. I see patriotism in the people who write their representatives and demand better from them.
On this day when we celebrate patriotism, I try to maintain hope, knowing it’s easier for me than for those founders 230 years ago as they took those tentative steps towards a brave new form of self-government. But we have traveled a long way from those innovative thoughts. Perhaps this generation doesn’t have the courage or strength for self-government, but I will continue to hope, I will continue to do what little I can, and I invite you to demand a return to the found ideals of America. The served us well for the first 200 years.