Friday, July 04, 2008

A Love Letter to America 

July 4th seems to have spawned a good deal of argument as to why we should not be proud to be Americans.

What tends to get lost in all the navel gazing is all the reasons why we should.


By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 04, 10:23:00 AM:

Man, the illegal immigrants that live in my neighborhood like this country more than Progressives.

Thanks Cassandra, I needed that.

And congratulations to my nephew in Iraq, he was just promotes to Master Sargent.  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Fri Jul 04, 10:30:00 AM:

Please tell your nephew congratulations for me. Master Sergeant is quite an accomplishment - you must be so proud!

And please thank him for me, and for all of us.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 04, 11:27:00 AM:

I will, Cassandra. He is a wonderful young man. Thank you.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 04, 01:00:00 PM:

@ tyree: Congratulations to the nephew.

@ Everyone: You may not believe me, but it has been my experience that the people who raise an unholy fury over certain actions by America and Americans fall into a similar camp as the one Cassandra describes. Faced with the dichotomy of what America is laid out to be in founding documents, orations and such and what America can be at times, it is a vicious and zealous love of the former that makes people indignant and caustic to the latter. Some naively think that lapses in judgment form betrayal of those central ideals, while others are merely intolerant of perceivedly willful flouting of them, but there's a reason that people are galvanized into protest and grievance, and it's not for the money.

We aren't all either patriots or navel-gazers.  

By Blogger TigerHawk, at Fri Jul 04, 01:11:00 PM:

tyree, congratulations to your nephew. That is a great honor, and we are obviously very lucky to have him fighting for us.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 04, 03:09:00 PM:

Many of those who are so critical of the US also hold up other institutions or countries as models we should follow or listen to, such as the UN, the EU, or some Western European countries. That contradicts the assertion that it is love of the founding documents etc. that motivates many who are so critical of the shortcomings of the US in living up the founding documents etc.

For the founding documents etc. of the US do not imply following in lockstep to institutions such as the UN and the EU or Western European countries, especially given the manifest shortcomings of said institutions or countries. Rather, the founding documents imply American particularism and that America is a model that others should follow, not the other way around.

Example. Many Americans criticize the US treatment of poverty, and claim that we should adopt the welfare state policies of Western Europe and/or the EU. This is in spite of the manifest inferiority of Western Europe in job creation and unemployment compared to the US. Or that the poor in America have larger living units than the average Western European. Not to mention the inability of Europeans to have a fertility rate that will maintain its population.

Example: Given the manifest shortcomings of the UN, it is anything but a model. Do you believe the pronouncements of the despot-ridden UN Human Rights Council/Commission have any intrinsic worth beyond furnishing toilet paper?

Yes, the US has its shortcomings. But anyone who suggests that we can solve them by slavishly following whatever the EU has done is a stone cold dummkopf who suffers from “Stockholm Syndrome” and not from love of country.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Fri Jul 04, 03:39:00 PM:

I've never been fully - or even partially - able to understand how one could view America as a racist, sexist unjust nation that exploits the world and yet at the same time claim to be a lover of it, a patriot if you will.

Why love it? Why be a patriot for such a country?

Is there, to single out one wrong, racism in America? Of course. There are still too many injustices done against black Americans (and other races).

But is America a thoroughly racist nation?


Are there other injustices done by this country?

Again, yes.

And those who wish to correct those wrongs deserve more acclamation than condemnation.

But is America a thoroughly unjust nation? A structurally and systematically unfair enterprise?

Again, no.

To think otherwise, for me, calls into question your patriotic devotion to it.

How could it not?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 04, 04:24:00 PM:

It is certainly true that there exist people who follow other things/institutions because of any number of other motivations, but I don't think the characterization is simple as you suggest (if I am reading your opening paragraph correctly). I don't know how one could substantiate the idea that America as operated on a daily basis is uniquely close to the American ideals in the founding (ie, for any ideal you choose, America is uniquely most proximal to its ideal execution), and if we can't then there necessarily exist instances where some other place or thing is closer to our ideals than we are. In these cases, it isn't a "slavish following" of anything that motivates a comparison to other institutions, but instead an impulse to observe that other people are doing something we are trying to do, and they are doing it better. I'll choose a couple of examples to flesh out the point.

In light of the recent Heller decision, it would seem that the right to have arms in one's home unfettered by any contrivance of law is inalienable, and we have been undermining that for years in various places including DC. In Switzerland, it is my understanding that every of-age male is officially part of the militia, (called up several times a year,) and as such every male is issued rifle, ammunition, and the like without any trigger locks etc. For a person with today's Constitutional interpretation but living 5 months ago, the Swiss might be seen to have a better system, more in line with our own Constitution, than we did. It's not Swissophilia that might motivate praising that system, but our own now-unconstitutional laws.

Secondarily, one might interpret the "we hold these truths to be self evident" clause of the Declaration to imply that the rights listed in the Bill of Rights apply to "all men (modern interpretation: people)" (Which might be reasonable given the open-endedness of the clause and the need to nail down the first few amendments for clarity.) This, along with whistleblower allegations of corrupt practices by Stephen Abraham and Andy Worthington (US Military at Guantanamo) might incline someone to side with UK criticism of our actions at Guantanamo, not because all the cool Euros are doing it, but because one perceives it to be an unconstitutional violation of rights as detailed in the original articles 6, 7, and 8 of the Bill of Rights. (And as for arguments of torture being ineffective in forcing only truthful confessions, prone to bad propaganda, worse treatment than we even needed with Nazis, stuff we convicted Japanese for after WWII, etc: all of these are arguments about what a country like AMERICA should be doing given our standing in the world and our legal traditions, and not how we can more be like foreigners except in so far as there exist other systems that can be workable.)

By way of addressing your examples, consider Luxembourg. This small country has the highest standard of living, strongest economy, and many other things out of all countries in the world (US inclusive) by many measures. I would hardly call this a manifest inferiority, or paint with the broad brush of French economic failings. If they have a better system, or have discovered some wonderful thing that we have not, why shouldn't we copy/steal it? Does American exceptionalism preclude us from using the good ideas of others? If so, the Industrial Revolution is notable, and the Enlightenment would like a word with our Founding Fathers.

I am open to a debate on the UN's role in the world as an extension of the political philosophies that undergird our institutions, or whatever else. But for now I think it worth noting that there are other options besides "slavish following" and "America, &%*! yeah."  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 04, 04:27:00 PM:

I think the answer lies in the distinction I tried to make above: people can be inutterably, unplacatably angry at America as we administer it today because it betrays the ideas that tehy think it should represent, as listed in founding documents.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Fri Jul 04, 04:55:00 PM:

I think the answer lies in the distinction I tried to make above: people can be inutterably, unplacatably angry at America as we administer it today because it betrays the ideas that tehy think it should represent, as listed in founding documents.

As a commentator above noted, then why is there such little anger from these same quarters over the failings, to cite an example, of the United Nations?

Isn't the UN an example of a institution praised by the (for want of a better phrase) left? A noble goal - universal brotherhood - that we should try and attain?

Yet we've seen numerous reports of the corruption of that body, of UN troops committing atrocities that make Abu Ghraib look like a tea party.

And yet we've heard or seen almost no outrage over these acts, over its failure to meet its ideals. Where are the protests, where are the demonstrators, where are the calls for reform?

The only voices I've heard critical of the UN are on the right, not the left (generally speaking).

Why such little outrage here?  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Fri Jul 04, 05:37:00 PM:

With the liberals I talk to, there is quite a bit of outrage at the UN as it exists (as compared to as it is supposed to exist.)

But aside from that, the UN is a problematic comparison for many reasons. Not all of the participants share the espoused ideals with nearly the consistency of Americans and American ideals, some see it merely as a platform, it's a young institution burdened with lots of baggage (comparatively for both) and other reasons. In the American case, we have the motive, the opportunity, and the means of pursuing the aims and actions we seek, which isn't always true of the UN. Simplifying and setting aside the nuance above, the short answer might be that the US knows better and can better seek its change than the UN can. When a bad act transpires, we don't seek to blame everyone, merely those people who should have prevented it and didn't; a similar burdens calculus can be adapted for your question, I think.  

By Blogger Steve M. Galbraith, at Fri Jul 04, 07:43:00 PM:

With the liberals I talk to, there is quite a bit of outrage at the UN as it exists (as compared to as it is supposed to exist.)

Sorry, that's a bit of a dodge (or comes across as one).

I see very little public outrage by the left/progressives over the failures of the UN. Certainly not in any way comparable to their criticisms of the US (don't even need to mention Israel).

And this:
In the American case, we have the motive, the opportunity, and the means of pursuing the aims and actions we seek

drills down somewhat to the gap between left and right and America re patriotism/love of country.

The right accepts the limits of America, the limits of human beings and the frailties of human-made institutions.

America isn't perfect because it can't be perfect.

We love America for what it has done and not for what it is, at some future date, capable of doing.

The left rejects such limits and thus judges America by an impossibly high standard that no country can meet.

For the left, then, America is an ideal, a work in progress that is never accepted in full (or even partially).

Peter Beinart put it best:

"Liberals may love America in part because it aspires to certain ideals, but if they love it only because it aspires to those ideals, then what they really love is the ideals, not America. Conservatives are right. To some degree, patriotism must mean loving your country for the same reason you love your family: simply because it is yours."

The left does indeed come across as loving these ideals - realistic and unrealistic ones - more than they do the country itself.

Last one from me; I'm certainly boring others to death.  

By Blogger Moneyrunner, at Sat Jul 05, 08:46:00 AM:

The Highest Form of Patriotism Is To Be Unpatriotic?

The left is proudly saying “I’m not a patriot” when just moments ago we were being warned not to call them unpatriotic. Apparently some have not gotten the message.

This appears to be part of the Obama syndrome.

Rush Limbaugh has an entire list of things we can’t say about Barack Obama and his friends. And in his sudden pirouette with his American flag lapel pin, his newfound love of country, his bear hug of the second amendment, his “nuancing” of his position on the Iraq war. Now I know how the faithful Communist felt in the 1930s and 1940s as they tried to keep up with who had now been revealed as an enemy of the people.

So now we know that it’s OK to say to creatures like Matthew Rothschild that he is not patriotic.

I predict that there will be flurry of Leftists echoing him.

But here’s an antidote for the mindset that defines lack of perfection for abject failure. Cassandra loves this country, as do I, because we have seen what this country allows people to be.

Independence Day. I awoke this morning to a country in which I can, if I choose, leave my front door unlocked at night without serious fear that my family or property will be harmed. Not everyone in America is this lucky. Certainly we did not start out this way.

My husband and I worked hard to get where we are today, but the fruit of our labors is protected by the rule of law. Thirty years ago, we had next to nothing. We were two young people with low paying jobs living well below the federal poverty level. At tax time, we didn't pay taxes. The government gave us money.

And we made good use of the opportunity we were given. Now, both we and our two grown sons and their families are prosperous and secure.
Read the rest...

Viewed dispassionately, people like Rothschild can be understood. They arrived at the pinnacle of wealth without effort and are now desperately trying to find a way to achieve something ... anything to give meaning to their lives.

There is no virtue to starting out poor and striving to become successful. But the struggle and the achievement provides a sense of satisfaction. What happens to those who arrive in this world with all their material wants satisfied, their every whim granted? They can, and often do, become disordered and grotesque. They hunt for celebrity (Paris Hilton) or become, like Matthew Rothschild, seekers of notoriety in the political sphere. And what better way to gain notoriety than on the Fourth of July to denounce your country.

As I said, wait for the rest of the Left to follow. It's easier than trying to maintain the illusion of patriotism when everyone knows the game is up.  

By Blogger Noumenon, at Sat Jul 05, 11:27:00 AM:

That's kind of a complicated link. It's almost as critical of America as it is complimentary. Certainly not what I was expecting.  

By Anonymous Anonymous, at Sat Jul 05, 11:44:00 AM:

By way of addressing your examples, consider Luxembourg…Does American exceptionalism preclude us from using the good ideas of others? If so, the Industrial Revolution is notable, and the Enlightenment would like a word with our Founding Fathers.

While Luxembourg may have the highest per capita income in the word, it is a country of a half million people under a thousand square miles and a small subsidiary of the EU. What does such a city-state have to say to a country of over 3 million square miles, and over 300 million? We may as well take out Westchester County for comparison. (BTW, when I was a child, some friends bought a house that had apparently been connected with the Luxembourg government-in-exile in WW2. I took out lots of pamphlets and newsletters related to that, which I eventually threw out. I wonder now if that material would have had some archival value.)

Switzerland's universal gun ownership is connected w universal military service, which makes it difficult to apply in the US.

Perhaps I have listened to too many EUROSNEERS and EUROWANNABES over the years to where I have a reflex action to vomit whenever someone suggests that anything emanating out of Europe in the last 60 years is a model for the US to follow. In most cases, perhaps not all, this is a sound course of action. Oh, why didn’t we award Schroeder a medal, just like the Syrian government did?

Regarding the UK informing the US how we should conduct ourselves with regard to liberty, civil rights and human rights, I ask you: which country has surveillance cameras on practically every urban street corner? While the police reserve the right in the UK for unlimited photography of the public they also reserve the right for ad-hoc restriction of photography. Read about the following incidents in the UK and I ask you: we should use the UK as model for liberty, for civil rights and for human rights?

Two schoolboys were given detention after refusing to kneel down and 'pray to Allah' during a religious education lesson. (Previous two sources: HT to Instapundit)

Consider the following gem.

Two American preachers in Birmingham, UK, were warned to leave for allegedly distributing Christian leaflets to Muslims. The preachers, 48-year-old Arthur Cunningham and 65-year-old Pastor Joseph Abraham, were talking to four Muslim youths when a "police community support officer" (PCSO) approached them.
According to the Daily Mail, the PCSO was Naeem Naguthney. PCSOs are auxiliary members of the police force who have less training and status than a police constable.
According to Cunningham, Naguthney "realized we were Americans and then started ranting at us about George Bush and American foreign policy. He said we were in a Muslim area and were not allowed to spread our Christian message. He said he was going to take us to the police station."
Cunningham also stated: "I told him that this had nothing to do with the gospel we were preaching but he became very aggressive. He said we were in a Muslim area and were not allowed to spread our Christian message. He said we were committing a hate crime by telling the youths to leave Islam and said that he was going to take us to the police station."

And you think we should listen to the UK regarding how to conduct ourselves w regard to liberty, human rights, and civil rights? Bend over and spread ‘em wide. Sounds like a GREAT model to me.
The more I read about Europe, the worse it seems to me. Was it just coincidence that Clockwork Orange was written in the UK?  

By Blogger Cassandra, at Sun Jul 06, 02:34:00 PM:

That's kind of a complicated link. It's almost as critical of America as it is complimentary. Certainly not what I was expecting.

If you're referring to my post, I'm glad you picked up on my ambivalence about where some of our freedoms have taken us. I think it is quite possible to love something (or someone) deeply while still not approving of absolutely everything about it :)

That's not entirely a bad thing, I think. One of the virtues of living in a free country is that we learn by trial and error. Under a more paternalistic system, these decisions would be taken out of our hands.

I'm not sure the result would be any better.  

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