Hating America?

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Really?  Which America?

W.J. Astore

I’m always baffled when I get a message from a reader that accuses me or my site as being “America haters.”  Of course, I shouldn’t be.  There’s always a strong element of “America: love it or leave it” in our popular discourse.  It’s an element the government actively encourages.

There was a time I identified with the U.S. government because I was part of it.  Having served in the US Air Force for twenty years — having worn this nation’s uniform with pride — I can understand those who think that the government and its actions represent them, or that patriotism somehow requires deference toward our elected representatives or government employees.

But this is indeed a dangerous attitude to have.  It’s not we who are supposed to serve the government: it’s the government that is supposed to serve us.  Even when I was in the military, I took an oath to defend the Constitution, not the government.

Governments are human constructions composed of imperfect humans.  They are vested with power, which feeds corruption.  So governments must always be kept in check.  They must always be viewed critically.  “Question authority” should be the byword of all true patriots.

Government is supposed to represent us.  When it fails to do so, we should elect new leaders who will do their jobs as public servants.  And if that fails, people need to organize and protest.  Sometimes, direct political action is all that works to right wrongs.  Think of union strikes; think of the civil rights movement; think of antiwar protests, as in the Vietnam War.

Government requires constant criticism.  That is the very reason why we have rights such as freedom of speech, of assembly, of the press.  It doesn’t help when people reject criticism as unpatriotic.  Indeed, it just empowers the worst elements within government.

I know all of this is obvious to my readers, else they wouldn’t be here.  Suffice to say our incredibly powerful government, which is increasingly shrouded in secrecy and therefore often unaccountable to the people, needs a lot more criticism.

Don’t confuse criticism with hate.  In fact, criticism may indeed be driven by a kind of love.

19 thoughts on “Hating America?

  1. “Love it or leave it.” Yes, that slogan was around since at least the Vietnam War days, when we dissidents were invited to “Go back to Russia!” Two quick points: 1.) The slogan in question is spouted by THE most backward, ignorant segment of the population (Hello, Trumpites!); 2.) If these so-called patriots would take up an adequate collection to fund a new life for me abroad, I will be happy to “leave it”! The System is so beyond any hope of real reform, things can only get way, way worse going forward. There’s a cheery pre-New Year thought for you!! The Constitutional rights we once held well-nigh sacred (certain members of the population never really enjoyed them) have been under accelerating whittling away since 9/11.

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    1. That slogan is often voiced by veterans, possibly because they don’t want to admit their war service was this side of pointless. That in itself might explain the high rate of PTSD in Nam vets and perhaps those in the Gulf as well.

      As to point 2, I’d like to travel if someone wants to fund it, but I would prefer to stay here in the slim hope that life in the U.S. will get better if we all work for it (Hey, I can still dream; the thought police haven’t progressed that far–yet). I’m guessing “cheery” was a just slightly sarcastic expression, but I do agree with your thought that our rights have been steadily eroded since 9/11.

      I remember sitting in the college Writing Center, about 2015 after the act was revised, and expressing my concerns about the USA PATRIOT Act and finding out no one had a clue what the acronym stood for. Given it was enacted in 2001, that seems unlikely, but there it is. The Homeland Security posters in the grocery stores, “if you see something, say something,” also gave me the willies. I always felt like the U.S. was turning into the Fatherland. That concern has only increased over the last few years. We (collective–although some don’t realize “they” are also in it) are deep in excrement at this time, and the only way out is if, farfetched as it seems right now, we learn to work together. Again, I can still dream.

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      1. Oh yes, the slogan was a mainstay of VFW/American Legion types. And guys who never did a day of duty in uniform who like to dress like veterans and parade around in public. That’s a real phenomenon. Have you seen Terry Gilliam’s 1985 movie “Brazil”? For a guy who claims to have never read Orwell’s “1984,” he created a dystopia on screen suspiciously similar. There are posters on the walls with slogans like (this ain’t verbatim, even though I watched the movie again just recently; the ol’ memory ain’t what it used to be!) “Don’t Listen to a Friend, Report Him” (implication being the friend is complaining about the conditions under which people are being forced to live). The original “Patriot Act” ran to over 1500 pages, I seem to recall, and as Rep. John Conyers remarked to Michael Moore in the latter’s documentary “Fahrenheit 911”: “Sit down, my son, I have news for you. MOST Congressional Bills never get read in their entirety prior to voting.” Imagine how few Members of Congress actually read that wretched piece of legislation prior to voting?!? And of course most of those who actually looked at it carefully were terrified to say no to it, lest they be branded “unpatriotic.” And so the ruse, the great fraud, is carried on from generation to generation. Gee, it’s “only” our civil liberties being surrendered!!

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  2. Dancers have “notes.” Notes are immediate feedback about your rehearsal or performance. Dancers always want the best notes, which means making sure they are alerted to anything which will give them less than the best performance. Saying “all good” is frustrating (and definitely not the best notes) because you need to know what to improve. Not getting honest notes would mean someone is fine letting you embarrass yourself in performance. You are all on the same team and those notes support excellence. So, no matter what, notes are about fixing, coaching, trimming, and just plain getting better.

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  3. Besides being a simplistic, dualistic expression (ie; no greys, just black or white, no extenuating circumstances or context, just right or wrong, etc) ‘Love it or leave it’ also always struck me as authoritarian. I can well envision millions of horrible fathers through the ages saying essentially the same thing (ie; “you have to respect your father!” after beating his poor kid within an inch of his life). In general usage, I see it as just a throw-away retort that intellectually lazy conservatives like to use, often when they’re confronted with facts not to their liking. And of course it’s a favorite go-to of the demagogue.

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  4. What a thoughtful and thought-provoking article, Thank you W.J. Astore. And how interesting the responses. Not an echo chamber at all, but nuanced and various.
    Viewed from afar, these give me hope that we can collectively work creating a future which evolves into a real democracy. For what Mr Pence and his cohort refer to as American Democracy is anything but!
    The question has been posed “What is America?” The answer is highly complex, perhaps almost as complex as one more familiar to me: “What is Irish?” Answering these begs for a unity of science and sensibility. The establishment use words as shorthand symbols so as to discourage deeper cognitive behaviour by the common person. But we commoners are the force in society which has always rendered change – evolution – revolution – deepening understanding.
    The establishment rape society by the hour. They consist of a class of persons who lie to protect their ill-gotten gains (stole from the common people). Who will tell you the class analysis of society is stupid – so that their class may continue to rule over us.
    And this is the point. They offer fixed concepts to reduce the dynamic, revolutionary, sensuously living world, to a dead zone of supposed;y unchanging absolutes.
    Their greatest weapon is their control of thought and thought process in others. Their hegemony rests on our acceptance of this mostly unseen manipulation.
    So think critically ( -with critique rather than just disapproval), and study dialectics – the mode of thought which can grasp the eternal motion of universal existence. In 2020, this will open your eyes. And then open your mind. And then connect with other open minds in mutual respect.
    And then “we” will change the world, by dispossessing the corrupted elite which has spoilt the magic of our unfettered human thought. That will make it A Happy New Year.

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    1. “Who will tell you the class analysis of society is stupid – so that their class may continue to rule over us.” How true!

      In America, the media always dismiss this as “class war.” Or robbing from the rich, as they’d say. It’s funny how meritocracy is America is defined by wealth …

      We live the opposite of Robin Hood. The richest rob from the poor and give back to themselves.

      But of course we’re supposed to fear brown-skinned immigrants, or moochers on food stamps, etc., while celebrating Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, and the Walton family that owns Walmart.

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    2. Once upon a time was published a book titled “Does America Have a Ruling Class?” After spending maybe 200 pages talking about the social milieu and finances of the elite–the prep schools, the elite universities, “Skull & Bones” at Yale, the exclusive country clubs, and the interlocking memberships on multiple banks and industrial corporations (corporate incest, we should call it)–the author managed to conclude, NO, ain’t no Ruling Class here! Needless to say, I was rather stunned! “What is America?” In two words, at this point in history, a FREAKIN’ TRAGEDY. So much potential to do good in the world, so much evil done instead for the further enrichment of the ever so undeserving.

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      1. Sorry, previous comment should have referred to “interlocking memberships on the Boards of Directors of…” Typing in the white heat of fury has its hazards!

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  5. Thanks for your truly patriotic thoughts–as a Navy Battalion Surgeon with the Marine Corps in Vietnam 1969-70 when we heard sketchy reports of the Kent State shootings, and could see at some night times the B-52 carpet-bombings of the Ho Chi Min trail, a distant and out-of-touch government could not hope to oversee the conduct of a misbegotten conflict
    that continues to haunt us to this day.

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    1. Allow me to add some more vintage Twain, as quoted in my still unpublished memoir of GI resistance to the Vietnam War. This appeared in one of the many works published only after Twain’s death, at his insistence, in a piece called “Passage From ‘Glances at History’ (suppressed)”: “I pray you to pause and consider. Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war, a war against a helpless people, and for a base object—robbery. At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician’s trick—a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! [italics in original] An empty phrase, a silly phrase. It was shouted by every newspaper, it was thundered from the pulpit, the Superintendent of Public Instruction placarded it in every schoolhouse in the land, the War Department inscribed it upon the flag. And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor—none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, ‘Our Country, right or wrong,’ [italics] and urge on the little war.”
      A little later, Twain adds: “The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: ‘Even if the war be wrong, we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor.’ [second half of statement in italics in original] Why, not even a burglar could have said it better” [again, italics in original]. [Excerpted from “The Bible According to Mark Twain,” edited by Howard G. Baetzhold and Joseph B. McCullough; Simon & Schuster, New York; Touchstone paperback edition 1996; pages 87-88.]

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  6. As far as I can tell, the people who “hate” America are those who spout such nonsense as “My country, right or wrong” and, yes, “Love it or leave it.” Their ire – which stems from their ignorance of The Constitution and of history (especially of the cozy relationship and arrangements between Congress and Big Business since WWII) and which is further fueled by politicians and certain media outlets – is directed at those who would exercise the rights and seek the protections which are guaranteed – guaranteed – by the Constitution, the same Constitution those politicians who bait and play them have sworn to uphold, the same Rights the hatemongers always claim to know apply to them and – apparently – them alone.

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