DERMODY: Nation has forgotten what it means to be American
Opinions Column: Under the Radar
If this past presidential election has taught us one thing, it is that America is not as united as we may have thought. As the New York Times recently put it, “Rather than being a one two-party nation, we are becoming two one-party nations.” What is the explanation for this deep bisection of the country? It has less to do with political policy and more to do with the fundamental values of America. Specifically, the (mis)interpretation of these fundamental values. In other words, I believe that a large portion of America has simply forgotten what it means to be American.
Traditionally speaking, patriotism in America is associated with the support and defense of personal freedoms, equal opportunity and inclusion. A patriot is someone who endorses these fundamental values that are meant to uphold the vision of our founding fathers. A vision that former President Barack Obama recently referred to as a gift from our founders. A gift that has provided us with, “The freedom to chase our individual dreams through our sweat, toil and imagination — and the imperative to strive together as well, to achieve a greater good." It is this revolutionary vision that has always fueled the heart of America. It has empowered our citizens, inspired our soldiers and propelled our nation towards a more perfect union.
But this fundamental American vision is under attack. Recently, a new form of American patriotism has emerged and abandoned the very principles that this country was founded on. Rather than advocating for progress and individual freedom, this new form of patriotism has resorted to nationalistic tendencies of superiority and exceptionalism. Consequently, America has waged an ideological war against itself and its values.
To clarify, an increasing presence of nationalism has challenged what it means to be an actual patriot and supporter of American ideals. In response to a constantly changing and uncertain world — especially in regard to recent terrorism and other threats to our democracy — many Americans, for good reason, have become scared. They have become fearful that our great nation will become “contaminated” with foreign influence. Furthermore, they fear that this influence will compromise the constitutional promise of liberty and freedom for all (or more specifically, themselves). As a result, many Americans have retreated to their secure and homogenous “bubbles.” As Obama further explained in his farewell address,"…we (have) become so secure in our bubbles that we accept only information, whether true or not, that fits our opinions, instead of basing our opinions on the evidence that’s out there.” He mentioned that social media, for instance, is “…splintering our (news) into a channel for every taste ... " Thus, our isolation from the world, as well as our divisions domestically, have grown deeper.
But by “defending” America through practices of exclusion and isolation, America is not being defended at all. Instead, we are sharply contradicting the same American vision that at some point or another graciously provided all of us and our families with refuge. In doing so, we are turning our backs on the leading premise of this nation. That is that all men are created equal and deserve equal access to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It is this ideological guideline that is America’s biggest accomplishment. It is this inclusive nature that makes America exceptional, not the misconception that America is an isolated and selective safe haven for the few.
Patriotism is not meant to further divide us based on our many differences. It is these differences, especially in times of chaos and confusion, that we must not run away from, but instead, embrace. It is these differences that our founding fathers would value and take great pride, and that make America the unique and exceptional melting pot of a nation that it is. By closing our borders and our minds, we are not only shunning the rest of the world, but also betraying ourselves. Behind politics, there has to be an underlying sense of unity and this has been absent in America. That being said, the future prosperity of our nation has less to do with the status of our economy and more to do with the perseverance of “One Nation Under God.” While Obama and other past presidents alike have actively defended this notion, President Donald J. Trump has shown a lack of interest in this effort to safeguard American unity. Of course, different parties govern using different ideologies, but when the idea of patriotism — which was always inclusive and nonpartisan, meaning that all Americans are invited to be equally patriotic — is politicized and used to push an exclusive agenda, then that defeats the importance of patriotism altogether.
Luke Dermody is a School of Arts and Sciences junior majoring in political science and criminal justice with a minor in economics. His column, "Under the Radar," runs on alternate Fridays.
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