I think it is essential, if America is to continue as a shining light, to bring a little respect back to the democratic process. It’s easy to say that these people representing our interests in Washington, D.C., and even Harrisburg, have not earned our respect, but they are our creations.
We tend to forget that no president was the target of more vitriol than Abraham Lincoln. He was mocked openly by his opponents and called everything from an ape to an idiot. He had to die before many came to their senses and, as it turns out, he was right about just about everything. Everyone had God on his or her side during those horrible years, and everyone was a self-anointed patriot, including slaveholders and those who fought, killed and died for a confederacy in a spurned attempt to conquer the tattered remnants of the disunited states. The southern rebels considered themselves as patriotic, God fearing and righteous as those committed to preserving the union.
I’m not sure what patriotism is supposed to be any more, but I never bought that jingoistic stuff about supporting your country no matter what it does or what policies and misadventures it supports around the world. A whole bunch of German citizens made that mistake in the 1930’s. I did once when, shortly after my 19th birthday, I joined the Army and became part of a war effort in Southeast Asia that turned out to be ill-advised, ill-fated and tragically wasteful. A lot of youthful promise was squandered out of blind acceptance that the United States was doing the right thing based on a militant premise. As it turned out, Communists did not take over the world as that theory about the toppled dominos predicted. Its demise as a global threat, it seems in retrospect, may have been prolonged by all the attention paid to its perceived perils.
More recently, many of us have had to face something that has strayed far afield of what was previously regarded as politics as usual in Washington, D.C. We’ve always had those on both the extreme left and right, but we’ve never had anything close to the threatened coup of January 6, 2021, during the lifetime of the oldest among us. It was the closest event since the Civil War where we faced the overthrow of our democracy, which is becoming increasingly fragile. This time it came from surrogates of those with fascist views willing to march lockstep behind candidates spurning the Constitution and our democratic process.
We survived a Trump presidency but came out of it worse for wear and barely surviving the January 6 insurrection cheered on by an outgoing president who refused to accept a resounding loss. That contention, the co-called “Big Lie,” was based on unfounded conspiracy theories and falsehoods to support his claim that some Machiavellian force in the deep state had somehow manipulated the vote count in state after state. Like the reality-show mentality that had fueled his fame, the traitorous Trump had learned to distort reality among a festering legion of angry and frustrated followers refusing to distinguish fact from fiction, blaming all our ills on an unseen enemy known as “the woke mob.” I guess they know a thing or two about mobs.
Oddly enough, the meaning of woke stems from an “awareness” of social and political issues. Awareness itself, in its primary definitions, means “knowledgeable” and “attentive” and “well informed.” These characteristics should be of prime importance in a democracy where We the People have the ultimate voice in choosing our governmental leaders. Woke is really a synonym for liberal, which primarily means “open to new ideas” and “tolerant.” It is the latter that bothers many conservative Republicans the most because liberals are more apt to accept —make that tolerate— the opinions and lifestyles of others more readily. You’ll find that some dictionaries are struggling to define the word “conservative” nowadays because, politically at least, conservative views on the the military, law-and-order and even the Constitution are shifting dramatically as the current decade unfolds.
The fact that we have the right to disagree, even passionately protest, our government’s policies is a sacred entitlement, as I see it, and I have no regrets about serving my country in uniform. Most of the men and women who fight our wars are just kids really, with no significant depth of knowledge or life experience to analyze and interpret the subtleties entangled in foreign policy. We serve, for the most part, out of gratitude for our birthright. As citizens, we know that we have the right to vociferously demonstrate and, of course, the privilege to vote and alter the course of governmental policies. In the meantime, there is something to be said for staying the course, as President Reagan often urged, and allowing the process to work.
By the way, I didn’t end up in Vietnam in the summer of 1967 because I wanted to rumble in the jungle with the Viet Cong. If you were drafted, it was likely that’s where you’d end up and, in too many cases, lose your life as more than 58,000 did between 1965 and 1973— about 40,000 of those between 1967 and 1969. You signed up, then interviewed and tested, and were presented with options based on what you were best suited for and where you were needed. I opted for Army Intelligence, even though I knew it was likely I’d spend a year in Nam. The price for enlisting instead of being drafted, was a three-year commitment instead of two, but it gave me some input into my assigned military occupational specialty (MOS).
Even American Democracy, when the national threat seems grave enough, requires military service via conscription. This may lead to widespread public protest, as it did during the time I was in Vietnam.
I am a patriot, though I do not always agree with the actions and policies of those who govern my country. That has become painfully true over the past few years. We have those basic freedoms: speech, religion, press, assembly and the right to petition the government. You do not have the freedom, so far at least, to overturn votes rendered in a presidential election by just making stuff up. This is “the betrayal of allegiance” to the Constitutionally protected concept of majority rule that is central to the definition of treason.
I do respect the democratic process that elects our so-called public servants despite some of the partisan abuse we’re seeing. As someone who tends to be skeptical of extreme views on the left and the right, I have learned patriotism can be as destructive as it is uplifting. It can be both sincere and phony, with the rhetoric often the same, whether in defense of slavery or rallying us to invade the capitol building to overturn the choice of more than 80 million voters.
Isn’t it more patriotic to step back, suck it up and allow the process to work— if it indeed has the capacity to work any more? It strikes me that we have come to this weird juncture where it is more important for one side to see the other fail than it is for us to stand united as a country in these dangerous times.