One of the more common tropes in modern American politics is the claim that the Republican Party has a monopoly on patriotism.
A flag flying in front of a home or a “Support Our Troops” bumper sticker is often assumed to signify the right-wing political affiliation of its owner. However, it’s clear upon deeper reflection that this has been a troubling display of misappropriation, which has watered down patriotism to nothing more than idolatry and cultish allegiance to symbols and slogans, rather than the principles they embody. This is all the more troubling as the Republican Party has rapidly become the party of Trumpism.
Democratic and Liberal Response to Republican Hijacking
For at least the last decade, patriotism has come to be nearly indistinguishable from xenophobic nationalism and hyperpatriotism; that is, patriotism has become synonymous with an excessive showing of blind allegiance to things instead of ideas and a refrain that any negative commentary on American attitudes, behaviors, or policies is somehow a departure from respect and love for one’s country. While this is entirely incorrect, it was so fully embraced by the flag-wavers across the country, that liberals felt joining the ranks of those expressing solidarity with the American flag or American symbols meant signing on to these horribly oversimplified and damaging conceptions of patriotism.
This departure from bipartisan shows of reverence for American symbols has allowed the Republican Party to run away with an image it has fostered and has created a narrative that portrays affection for one’s country as mutually exclusive to progressive or liberal ideals and anathema to the Democratic Party. It’s a false narrative, but one that has been so deeply drilled into the cultural psyche we’ve been nearly powerless to alter it. It’s well past time to correct for that and there’s no better moment than right now, as we see Republicans abandoning whatever vestiges of American ideals they still had.
Patriotism as Theatrics
We need look no further for evidence of this reality than the way in which most Republicans have clamored to support Donald Trump’s every whim. They’ve rallied behind him as he has worked to decimate the institutions that have held America together for more than two centuries. They’ve supported him as he has attacked America’s allies, particularly those who are most deeply committed to the democratic ideals that the United States was founded on. They’ve rushed to endorse his continued attacks on the press, a hallmark of freedom of speech. They’ve endorsed his calls to “lock up” his political opponents, a theme common in dictatorships and authoritarian regimes. They shout about the importance of standing for the national anthem and chant about American exceptionalism, which are extremely ironic gestures, given their clear interest in dismantling everything that has, in fact, made America exceptional. They’ve done all of this with glee and fervor, all the while enthusiastically waving our American flag.
The underlying truth here is that most Republicans, especially those who support Donald Trump, don’t actually value the profound principles, values, and philosophies that make America what it is and give us the foundation to push on towards what America can truly be. They’ve come to idolize the symbols, while completely dismissing the very things that the symbolism is supposed to represent. In quite the same way, they’ve flocked to Trump via cult-of-personality driven furor, hanging on his every word, no matter what it is. This is evident in their acceptance of every policy his administration has proposed, regardless of how contrary it is to long-standing Republican inclinations and regardless of how much it flies in the face of decency, normalcy, and propriety.
In doing this, they’ve reduced patriotism to empty slogans, vacuous imagery, and wholesale idolatry. They’ve produced a shadow of patriotism, which is no more than the fetishization of banners, reminiscent of fascistic nations, where people have been duped into rallying behind figureheads and signs in place of institutional norms and unwavering values.
This isn’t patriotism and it cannot be allowed to stand as the Golden Calf that Republicans have made of it.
The Democratic Party has become the U.S. political movement that more truly embodies American principles and we shouldn’t shy away from donning the symbols or waving the flag that can serve to display our commitment to those principles. Political rallies for equality, regardless of one’s sex, gender identity, race, religion, or country of origin, should be awash with stars and stripes, making it clear to all onlookers and participants that the flag is not a Republican prop to feign patriotism, but an enduring sign that America is a place where diversity is valued and equality is recognized as inherent to our success and a bedrock of our very being. This should be our modus operandi at every rally for social justice or economic inequality. We should make sure these displays are present and unmissable at every march against gun violence or interference in our democracy.
Revoking the Trumpian Republican claim to these symbols also acts to diminish their ability to market themselves as patriots and to continue hijacking the image of our country and its symbols, which is ultimately a battle over how American identity is projected around the world. No longer can we allow the worst among us to define us, to define our country, and to define the symbols that relay to everyone who sees them what kind of people we are and what kind of values we care deeply about.
Enough. We are the Patriots.