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.