Dissent and the patriot

One of the most amusing of American political tactics is defining opposition to anything the government says or does as unpatriotic - even treasonous.

Since 9/11 - and to a certain extent, before - anyone who doesn't wholeheartedly support the current administration in any detail is often portrayed as being somehow unAmerican.
It is hard, for me, to understand how anyone can fall for this approach, for two reasons.

The first reason is purely a matter of historical merit. The very basis for American society, the origin of the entire nation, is rebellion. It is the belief that authority should be questioned, the total rejection of the notion of infallible government, that defines the creation of the United States of America. That any person - no matter their station or situation - has the right to question and to challenge the government was one of the driving forces behind the USA's struggle for independence.

So central is the concept that it forms the basis for the Declaration of Independence of the Thirteen Colonies:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it[...]
It is part of the First amendment, which not only protects free speech, but also the right of the people to petition the government for "a redress of grievances."

The Constitution of the United States even begins with the declaration "We, the People," a hugely unusual statement for the time.
Even today, official documents and declarations issued by most governments - for example, declarations of war - draw upon the authority of the deity or deities that are culturally significant to the country concerned, and it is by drawing upon this divine right that most governments hold themselves to be beyond reproach.

In Britain, for example, such documents are always predicated upon the authority of the Crown, which derives, its traditionally held, from the Christian god. The official title of the Queen goes "Her Majesty, Elizabeth the Second, by the grace of God Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland..." and it is held that Monarchs are "ordained by God."

The authority of the American government, however, derives entirely from the Constitution, and the authority of the Constitution derives entirely from the people. It seems completely impossible that any individual could be considered to be betraying his government by criticising it, when he, in a very real sense, is the government, especially when that government is founded upon the principles of individual freedom and liberty.

The second reason is cultural. In Britain, there never would, nor could, be any suggestion that patriotism could be defined as unconditional support of any one party or administration. Such a suggestion would be greeted with howls of derision. Which is not to say, of course, that some parties haven't tried it.

Patriotism is defined - in England - as loyalty to the Crown. Queen and Country. Okay, you can throw whatever god you want in there, too, if it'll make you happy.

Administrations come and go, Prime Ministers change, the Crown is eternal. Everyone from the military down to the Cub Scouts swear allegiance to the Queen, not to the government.

It is just one advantage of a constitutional monarchy, that the head of State and the head of the government are separate. One can disagree with the government - vocally and often - without ever compromising one's patriotism.

I dislike the current Labour government intensely. I think Tony Blair is a grinning twat who needs constant supervision in order that he not turn Britain into some Orwellian nightmare zone.

But call me unpatriotic for it and you'll have a fight on your hands.

I don't have to support my government in order to be patriotic. In fact, when the government is doing harm to the country, opposition is the only patriotic option.

It is, of course, for Americans to decide for themselves how they define patriotism. Is it loyalty to the constitution? To the founding principles of the country? To the institution of government? To the office of the president? To the actual president? To the party?

Whatever one chooses, blind obedience is never a good thing. Had the Founding Fathers practiced that brand of patriotism, there would be no USA.

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