America is in a constant state of uproar, but nothing seems to trigger some segments of the left so much as expressions of patriotism. President Trump wants tanks at his Fourth of July parade — how fascist! Nike wants to feature the Betsy Ross American flag on shoes — it’s tantamount to a swastika! NFL players are supposed to pledge allegiance to the flag — that’s racist! Trump says the word “nationalist” — that must be a dogwhistle to white supremacists!
Much of the outrage is fake, of course. Displays of military force like battleships, fighter jets, and — yes! — tanks either have been or currently are common in American cities and presidential marches. The Betsy Ross American flag is a historic symbol of America, and it was flown above Barack Obama at his inauguration. The pledge of allegiance is not racist. Nationalism is very different from the racialist white nationalist movement.
Yet beneath the faux outrage is a very real ideological threat that blinds Americans of good will to the essential good of the American experiment. Academics and activists claim that patriotism is inherently racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, and imperialist. It often seems as though they think America is essentially evil and oppressive, and the oppressed masses can only find justice in a revolution against the principles of America’s Revolution.
There is some truth to the oppression narrative, of course. Despite the founders’ claim that “all men are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights and that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness,” the American South long institutionalized a race-based system of slavery based in pseudoscientific claims of racial inferiority. The homegrown terrorist group the Ku Klux Klan lynched and intimidated black Americans. Americans did violate treaties with native Americans, and the U.S. government rounded up Japanese Americans, depriving them of liberty and property by putting them in “internment camps.”
Each of these episodes is a black mark on America’s record, but they are black marks — they are not the record itself.
Enterprising academics and activists have made names for themselves by claiming that each of these injustices has left its mark in American institutions. The stains are indelible, the system is rotten to the core.
Thus, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) calls detention centers for illegal immigrants “concentration camps,” suggesting they are no better than the Nazi camps in which Jews and other “unfit” groups were worked to death. Violent protesters who describe themselves as “anti-fascist” adopt fascist tactics and rough up journalists — causing brain bleeds. Prominent liberal groups strain to connect social conservatism to white supremacy.
The grievance narrative has grown so toxic and so dominant that academics have gotten mainstream academic journals to publish absurd hoax papers.
These opportunistic smears and political attacks are ridiculous, but they make sense to those who have demonized America’s heritage, and that of the West more generally.
But America is not fundamentally racist, sexist, xenophobic, Islamophobic, or imperialist. Even the conservatives often demonized in these terms have falsely accused.
On the Fourth of July, it is fitting to turn to the Declaration of Independence for the key to America. It lies right in that powerful statement: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable 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.”
America is an exceptional nation because it is founded on an idea more than on a group of people.
When the founders accepted slavery as a necessary evil, they were betraying this ideal. In his second inaugural address, President Abraham Lincoln described the Civil War as God’s judgment on both the North and the South. “Fondly do we hope — fervently do we pray — that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue, until all the wealth piled by the bond-man’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash, shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord, are true and righteous altogether.'”
Slavery, segregation, the KKK, betrayals against native Americans, and Japanese internment were a betrayal of America’s core principles.
The United States set a powerful precedent for independence from a colonial power. It inspired a spate of revolutions and independence movements across the world, and created a free market that unleashed a new kind of prosperity. American forces defeated Nazism and the totalitarian Japanese Empire, and held Soviet communism at bay, helping it to implode. After World War II, the U.S. invested in rebuilding Germany and Japan.
Patriotism involves a healthy devotion to American principles and a healthy pride in its history and heritage. America is not perfect. It is not the New Jerusalem or God’s chosen nation. But it has provided a haven for freedom and prosperity, and extended those benefits to other parts of the world.
The left often seizes on “hate crimes” that prove to be hoaxes. Wilfred Reilly documented hundreds of recent hoaxes in his book Hate Crime Hoax: How the Left is Selling a Fake Race War. Seeking to prove the inherent bigotry of America, liberals seize on the unconfirmed reports of swastika graffiti, hate-inspired arson, and nooses. These events prop up a grievance industry worth millions.
Demonstrations of American force are not fascism. American flags are not swastikas. American nationalism is emphatically not white nationalism. American flags and American fighter jets, battleships, and tanks are fine displays of patriotism on the Fourth of July. They are not signs of bigotry or oppression but symbols of American freedom, imperfect as it may be.
The United States needs reform in many key areas, but as Lincoln noted, reform involves restoring the promise of America, not unraveling its supposedly essential oppression.
So on the Fourth of July, Americans should not be ashamed to celebrate their country. Rather, the grievance hawkers peddling false narratives of current oppression should be ashamed, for robbing many Americans of the joy of this festive occasion.
Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.