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Who has ever succeeded in taming patriotism?

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on 24 Comments

Annus horribilis. That’s what it’s been, everywhere really. And politically in the United States—is there any other way to think about it?

Patriotism—a particular bete noir with me—is all the rage these days. The Republicans are crying foul, charging that Democrats have co-opted classic Republican favorites: patriotism, American exceptionalism, optimism, chants of U.S.A! U.S.A!, the military. And the Dems are making hay while the “real” Republicans are stuck wallowing in the negativity of Trumpdom that they’ve brought upon themselves slowly but ever so surely over the past year (with the aid of our cowardly media, which are now frantically seeking redemption and pretending they weren’t enablers of the racism and the rest of the ugliness that have come to characterize American discourse).

Parenthetically, on one level, I am amused at the Republican carping because, of course, they don’t mention that along with the “morning in America” tropes and the muscular militarism that Democrats have “stolen” from them, Dems also embrace the anathemas: gender equality; marriage equality; racial equality; freedom of religion; a woman’s right to choose; vigorous opposition to racism, Islamophobia, and homophobia; due process; support for raising the minimum wage, ensuring the future of social security, Medicare, Medicaid, and the ACA; belief that climate change is real. To itemize some essentials of the Democratic agenda. There’s no Republican fare in those quarters. So, really, David Brooks and Ross Douthat (the resident Republicans on the NY Times editorial page), as well as the rest of their Republican comrades in arms, have it wrong. But it suits them to pretend that what may be a winning agenda for the Democrats is nothing but stolen property.

Back to patriotism. Coincidentally, just as the Democrats put their not-Republican version of patriotism front and center at the Democratic national convention last week, an Israeli academic friend, a political theorist, sent along the promised syllabus for his course on “the term patriotism in political thought.” I looked over the lengthy reading list and lighted immediately on an article by George Kateb, “Is Patriotism a Mistake?” George is a friend, an emeritus professor of political theory and one of the best thinkers I’ve ever encountered. So I knew where to start my reading (and to date that’s as far as I’ve gotten).

The article is a devastating, well-deserved critique of patriotism as (to put it most briefly) a “grave moral error” and a phenomenon inevitably in bed with militarism, its raison d’etre. George’s case struck a chord with me, since “patriotism,” as a rule, makes my skin crawl (no flag gene in our DNA, as my son, Hanan, once observed). Indeed, the only times I resonate with it, albeit temporarily, are when an alternative version (of some sort of “good” patriotism) is advanced. But we should never lose sight of the fact that militaristic patriotism is the default setting. And the tendency is always to revert to the default.

That’s why I could love Michelle Obama’s speech at the convention. And Barack Obama’s speech. I can swallow such occasional doses of the alternative variant—patriotism as our “better angels” and American exceptionalism as being better in how we comport ourselves as individuals and as a country. (But I know that story from the Jewish world in terms of the very problematic concept of the Chosen People. Some tout it, arguing that “we” Jews are enjoined to be better, a light unto the nations. But, in reality, those who get orgasmic over being the Chosen People are partisans of Jewish superiority. As far as I’m concerned, the Chosen People is a concept that long ago passed it expiration date.) But in today’s political world, one needs words to answer them, the Republicans, I know. Just so long as we don’t kid ourselves. American exceptionalism is really, at bottom, about being bigger and tougher in the sense of might makes right and doing whatever it is that we want at whatever harm to anyone or everyone else. It always comes back to that.

In this volatile annus horribilis, how curious is it that it took Ghazala and Khizr Khan to make a devastating dent in the nativist, Islamophobic Trump juggernaut and expose the emperor’s ugly nakedness? Admittedly, the success of this effort took an earnest embrace of patriotism and American exceptionalism, plus (inevitably) some embrace of the nobility of war. I hope it doesn’t turn around to bite us. But for the moment, this seems to be the only language that works. Still, it’s worrisome: who, after all, has ever succeeded in taming patriotism?

Ilene Cohen
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24 Responses

  1. Keith
    August 2, 2016, 4:52 pm

    ILENE COHEN- “But we should never lose sight of the fact that militaristic patriotism is the default setting. And the tendency is always to revert to the default. That’s why I could love Michelle Obama’s speech at the convention. And Barack Obama’s speech.”

    I take it that you are a Clinton supporter and this curious post ostensibly on “patriotism” is, in reality, a Trojan horse to vilify Trump as the worser evil? Trump is a buffoon, his comments repugnant. But, I ask you, whose policies have killed more Muslims, Clinton or Trump? Who is more militaristic, Clinton or Trump? Who was involved in the decision to expand NATO eastward to Russia’s borders, Clinton or Trump? Who is by far the greatest warmonger to run for President? Hillary, that is who. It is the Democrats who have dangerously ramped up the Putin bashing in preparation for a confrontation with Russia. And blaming Putin for the consequences of the imperial destabalization of the Ukraine is both dangerous and dishonest. Who is in bed with the neocons such as Victoria Nuland of the notorious Kagan Clan of militarists? As for Obama, he is as dishonest as he is eloquent, his flaws too numerous to mention. A man who says he wants to eliminate nuclear weapons even as he supports a $1 trillion nuclear upgrade over the next 30 years.

    You seem to think that words speak louder than actions. Not me. I believe in holding people accountable for their actions. That is why I will never support Hillary the warmonger. No, I don’t support Trump either. How could I? Jill Stein gets my vote. At least I won’t be supporting empire and neoliberalism with my vote. A vote for Hillary is a vote for war and empire, says I.

  2. Another Dave
    Another Dave
    August 2, 2016, 7:44 pm

    Patriotism gets tamed when the nation suffering it is defeated in war.

    I can love the people in my country, but I don’t love the nation at all. It’s nice enough, I’d rather live here than anywhere else, but I’m no patriot.

    • inbound39
      August 2, 2016, 9:31 pm

      America has been defeated for the first time in history, for any nation, without a shot being fired ,by a lesser equipped,far smaller nation than itself, Israel. The plan was subtle and so fiendishly simple, to quote BlackAdder………”You could pin a tail on it and call it a Donkey”. They used a simple plan. They took advantage of Americas trust and need to help the downtrodden. They used Americas love of the American dream…..the need to make and have lot’s of money. Zionist Israeli’s seemed to give huge amounts of money to politicians to assist them in elections the only requirement….to help the poor victims of the Holocaust. Simple…so simple it was brilliant! Why wouldn’t you? Problem was the Zionists had a cunning plan….to take more from America than it gave. It opened very powerful institutions like AIPAC and ADL and these Zionist backed entities spread their troops across America in no time. They targetted the powerbase enginroom of America….its government. They wined and dined them,,,,gave them extravagant gifts and large gifts of money….just to help them out you understand. Nothing sinister behind it….how could it be sinister….they had such nice friendly smiles. Bottomline….the Zionists always took far more. Look at American governance today….two parties both containing large numbers of politicians dependant on Zionist money to stay in power and for the millions Zionists give they take billions in AID and Weaponry to steal land and ethnically cleanse Palestine and subjugate and torment the Palestinian people. Netanyahu himself calls conditions in Gaza awful. He orchestrated that. Zionists are a people who themselves were abused and contained and killed en masse by Nazi Germany….Now Zionists are visiting that same horror on Palestinians and American politicians willingly assist because nowadays Israel owns America and it calls the tune. The great standard of Justice Freedom and Equality has fallen without a shot being fired and untangling itself from Israel is going to be extremely messy. How much do Americans love freedom and Independence….not enough apparently. They know what’s happening but they are gobsmacked it has happened right under their noses……they have been betrayed in the worst way possible and now suffer humiliation watching their President get insulted by Israel and watching the Head of Israel lecture Congress anytime he chooses. No one electxed Netanyahu to govern America….no one elected Israel to control and define its policies. Americans this election are faced with choosing dumb and dumber…two candidates supplied and funded by Zionist Israel that makes America more laughable AND HUMILIATES ITS PEOPLE BEFORE THE WORLD even more. Americans stand puzzled and trance like…immobile to do anything. Powerful stuff Ziocaine.

    • Emory Riddle
      Emory Riddle
      August 3, 2016, 11:44 am

      Hilarious. Trump is attacked as a Muslim hater on the basis of words that are open to interpretation yet the media as one claims was a slur against Islam. The same media that routinely vilifies Muslims. On behalf of the same DNC that vows to fight BDS and pushes more wars against Islamic nations. The same DNC where Bill Clinton spoke and basically threatened American Muslims.

      Trump indeed has slammed Muslims for political gain — but not this time.

      For the very people who ginned up this whole Islamophobia to 1st use Muslims to sell Hillary and then to attack Trump is just plain pathetic.

  3. echinococcus
    August 3, 2016, 1:26 am

    In this volatile annus horribilis, how curious is it that it took Ghazala and Khizr Khan to make a devastating dent in the nativist, Islamophobic Trump juggernaut and expose the emperor’s ugly nakedness? Admittedly, the success of this effort took an earnest embrace of patriotism and American exceptionalism, plus (inevitably) some embrace of the nobility of war

    Why the mealy mouth?
    It was just open apology of crimes against humanity and war crimes by a professional of propaganda whose son had got his comeuppance after having willingly enlisted as a war criminal: no one s allowed to ignore that you don’t do defense outside the borders, or that the US army has never had any defensive role since 1945.
    The Democrats have just pulled off the “liberalism” mask even for the last stupid who wanted them to be something else than the cutting edge of US imperialism. Guess what: the same stupid now pretend that nothing is happening.

    • zaid
      August 3, 2016, 11:49 pm

      I agree with you.

      Humayan or whatever this scumbag name is is a criminal.

  4. JLewisDickerson
    August 3, 2016, 7:24 am

    RE: “The Republicans are crying foul, charging that Democrats have co-opted classic Republican favorites: patriotism, American exceptionalism, optimism, chants of U.S.A! U.S.A!, the military.” ~ Ilene Cohen

    MY COMMENT: Bulls on parade!

    ■ Rage Against the Machine – Bulls on Parade (SNL 1996)

    . . . Weapons not food, not homes, not shoes
    Not need, just feed the war cannibal animal
    I walk tha corner to tha rubble that used to be a library
    Line up to tha mind cemetery now
    What we don’t know keeps tha contracts alive an movin’
    They don’t gotta burn tha books they just remove ’em
    While arms warehouses fill as quick as tha cells
    Rally round tha family, pockets full of shells

    Rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
    They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
    They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells
    They rally round tha family! With a pocket full of shells

    Bulls on parade

    Come wit it now!
    Come wit it now!
    Bulls on parade!
    Bulls on parade!
    Bulls on parade!
    Bulls on parade!
    Bulls on parade!

    P.S. Read about the what made the above performance by RATM on SNL in 1996 so controversial. –

  5. silamcuz
    August 3, 2016, 7:42 am

    I think Muhammad managed to do quite well in taming patriotism, when he united the various warring nations of Arabia under a singular constitution that valued universal justice and the laws of an omnipotent God over the laws of men.

    Anyways, like the author, I also strongly despise patriotism and any display of it. For me it is an obvious scheme deviously constructed to exploit the diversity and multitudes of people living on the land into supporting a power system that gives a select few the ability to rule over the masses.

    I don’t need a country. I certainly don’t need the stress of having to yield to the oppressive and idiotic laws, the burden of complicity in acts of injustice by the state, the awkwardness of a fake camaraderie with fellow countrymen I would never invite to my home even in the event of a zombie apocalypse.

    Even if the entire world is a country, I still won’t be able to practice nor agree with patriotism. At this stage of my life, I only care for a few set of people, amounting to a number less than 50. As for the remainder 7 and something billion of my countrymen, they could all be swept up in a giant tsunami and die, and I doubt I would be strained to even spare a thought.

    • silamcuz
      August 3, 2016, 11:09 am

      Despite my immense admiration of the Islamic faith and ideals, I also have a problem in the mainstream media playing cops and robbers when it reacting to Khans speech at the DNC. The liberal media is shamelessly exploiting a misguided kids death to push a narrative that there are good Muslim citizens willing to die for the country. While the conservatives are using Islamophobic sentiments like terrorist ties and misogyny to denigrate the Khans directly, while also attacking the DNC for featuring them indirectly.

      Islam has been existing for over 1400 years. The subject of terrorism first blew up nationally 15 years ago during the WTC attacks. It’s beyond ridiculous how the mainstream media are still entertaining the idea that there is any such thing as Islamic terror.

      Secondly, Muslims Americans are not obligated to prove their love and loyalty to the country any more than other groups of Americans. Just because some idiot who happen to have a Muslim upbringing, decided to an agent of American militarism and died for such a dubious cause, it doesn’t mean that is the benchmark for all Muslim Americans to aspire to in order to be viewed as equal citizens. Ali was a Muslim and one of the greatest American bar none, and yet he openly rejected in taking part in American militarism and global imperialism. DNC and progressive media are being really shitty in trying to push such a problematic narrative that bears so much harm to the Muslim American community.

      Dying for the country is not something to be proud of, especially if that country is the USA. Muslim Americans can be excellent, exemplary Americans citizens without volunteering themselves as pawns for the military establishment. There is no honour in fighting and killing folks in third world nations to benefit a select group of people who profits off bloodshed and turmoil.

      • Mooser
        August 3, 2016, 4:44 pm

        “Despite my immense admiration of the Islamic faith and ideals”

        Okay, so you’re not a Muslim. And you said just the other day: “LOL, I’m not Jewish” (I can get it from your archive).
        Not Muslim, not Jewish.
        Are you one of those Omnipotentians?

      • silamcuz
        August 4, 2016, 11:01 pm

        Actually I identify as a progressive. But I must admit I have a growing desire to learn more about Islam and take part in the conversion process in the future. But at the moment, I feel like I’m not ready to commit myself to its beauty and grace knowing all too well how ugly I am as a person.

    • Mooser
      August 3, 2016, 1:29 pm

      “At this stage of my life, I only care for a few set of people, amounting to a number less than 50.”

      Well, aren’t they a lucky bunch! I wonder if the rest of us can possibly muddle through without you.
      But really “Silamcuz”, wouldn’t you say that your comments here show that truly, you care about everybody? That’s why you make the effort to try and guide us in the true way!

      “and the laws of an omnipotent God”

      Say what? “Omnipotent”? You must be kidding, right. So what’s He done, to be so “omnipotent”? Puh-leaze! Couldn’t bust na’ar a grape.

  6. Marnie
    August 3, 2016, 8:09 am

    I think patriotism is idolatry. The pundits talking about the Khan’s ‘ultimate sacrifice’ made me think of pagans sacrificing their children to their gods, in this case, democracy. I am too literal at times, I know, but the ‘ultimate sacrifice’ just creeps me out.

    Is it necessary to refer to the united states as the ‘greatest’ country in the world and the president of the united states as the most powerful person in the world? Is it enough to say the united states is a good place? It really isn’t though, is it? A lot of americans suffer from the horrible choices their elected officials make, the constant meddling in the affairs of other countries, the continued ignoring of the illegal criminal activity in the biggest welfare state in the world, selling weapons of war to said country and others all across the globe and making fortunes on the misery of a whole lot of varying shades of brown, mostly Muslim people around the globe and ignoring the plight of the very many impoverished people just a few blocks away from the white house and around the country.

    I watched, to my regret, Rachel Maddow talking about the republican party’s continued support of drumpf. Except for one repub (who is leaving office this year) who said he was voting for HRC. I don’t know if she realized the irony in her words when she talked about how the repubs will complain and criticize drumpf but won’t actually do anything substantive about it. Just like israel – white house is ‘dismayed’, ‘upset’, ‘concerned’, ‘angry’ but does nothing else. Strictly lip service. And this is supposed to be the greatest country in the world. Not so much.

  7. eljay
    August 3, 2016, 8:54 am

    IMO, nothing (country, religion, etc.) and no-one is entitled to or deserves blind devotion.

  8. JLewisDickerson
    August 3, 2016, 11:16 am

    RE: “annus horribilis”

    MY COMMENT: At first blush, I thought maybe this had to do with a bad case of diarrhea. But, ignorant me, it’s Latin for ‘horrible year’.

  9. Atlantaiconoclast
    August 3, 2016, 1:15 pm

    First things first: I agree that the notion of an exceptional people is dangerous. I do believe that the foundations of our nation’s constitution were exceptional, but I strongly reject the might equals right type to which you refer.

    But I really disagree with the rest of your piece. First, the Khan guy attacked Trump. Trump did not attack him. Even the comment about the wife was not an attack, more like a person musing out loud. And it is a fact that Khan’s son would not be dead had Clinton and other Democrats NOT joined the neocon Republicans to support the Iraq War.

    Finally, one can be patriotic AND oppose the might equals right ideology inherent in American exceptionalism. See Ron Paul. Few people are more patriotic, but he does not support unnecessary wars AND he does not accept government violating our constitutional rights. If the anti Zionists would use American patriotism to expose Israel’s real harm to the US, it would engender hostility toward Israel among Americans and the Israeli apartheid enterprise would fall quick. If Americans only knew! But somehow, I don’t think my advice will be heeded.

  10. just
    August 3, 2016, 1:46 pm

    “WATCH: Joe Scarborough Says Trump Asked Adviser, ‘Why Can’t the U.S. Use Nuclear Weapons?’

    Former Republican congressman Joe Scarborough, recalled an incident live on air in which he claimed “several months ago, a foreign policy expert went to advise Donald Trump and three times he asked about the use of nuclear weapons.””

    read more:

    • Atlantaiconoclast
      August 3, 2016, 6:51 pm

      There is no proof that happened. Scarborough is all about virtue signalling, given his Southern roots, and career in NYC. It is almost required for Southerners in NYC to virtue signal all the time to overcome anti Southern disdain.

      • Mooser
        August 3, 2016, 9:30 pm

        . It is almost required for Southerners in NYC to virtue signal all the time to overcome anti Southern disdain.”

        Yeah, if they found a dead girl in my office, with her head cracked, I’d be virtue signalling like crazy, no matter where I came from.

  11. echinococcus
    August 3, 2016, 3:57 pm

    That’s a rare low, even in terms of Zionist-a$$licking pieces published on MW.
    In its zeal for propaganda top serve the Clinton imperial harpy, it lures the reader with a “maybe-anti-patriotard” heading to serve piping hot cold war imperialist and warmongering shit. She is against the Dim party use of what she calls Republican slogans –as if the Dims weren’t just as much and more of criminals against humanity. As if they were not the users of USA #1 shit and incitement to mass murder. She “could love” both Obamas’ speech –and also tries to suggest without really suggesting that she is not really in love with that, eh? Then full applause for the maudlin use of a son that got what he deserved by knowingly enlisting to commit crime of aggression and war crimes.
    None of this has anything to do with Trump, by the way. Ridiculous and revolting as he is, didn’t conspire to commit, order, propagandize, vote, pardon, criminally refuse to prosecute or replicate many times over the crime of aggression against Afghanistan and Iraq.

  12. Amy1
    August 18, 2016, 7:56 pm

    I know it would sound harsh but I have no sympathy for any American soldier who lost his life in Iraq, Afghanistan or elsewhere. I could respect them defending their own borders but not to travel thousands of miles from home to terrorize the native population of so many countries. Neither do I have any sympathies for their PSTD which gets mentioned only when it comes to soldiers who have willingly participated in civilian slaughters. We never hear about the PSTD that civilians and children suffer from in these war zones and unlike these American soldiers they have no way out. Killing people who have never harmed you and have a right to life just like everyone else does, is not patriotism it’s slavery to political and corporate masters. Mr Khizar Khan wants to be proud that his son was a willing slave among many others and unfortunately its nothing to be proud of. Just because he was a Muslim doesn’t diminish the criminality of his actions.

    I wonder why is there so much hype about Trump being an Islamophobe. You can easily switch on any mainstream news channel in the US and if the word “Muslim” gets mentioned it has to be in an inflammatory, xenophobic and bigoted way and that’s how it has been for decades. Trump merely cashes on that prejudice that the media has injected in the population for years on end and gets the blame for it. American political structure is steeped in American exceptionalism and it won’t change unless the vast majority of people find the idea repugnant which they don’t.

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