Saturday, June 30, 2012

Be A Patriot, Not A Dick

I used to love a good boozed-fueled political debate.  Then a girl I wanted to date, marry, and possibly impregnate informed me I was not being patriotic, I was being an asshole.

Politics and cigarettes are the vices I gave up in order to see The Girl Who Would Change My Life naked.  Smoking was a walk in the park.  It's a far greater challenge to keep from engaging in political combat.  In retrospect, however, I believe those arguments were killing me at a more rapid pace than Parliament Lights.

Passion has the potential to make politics great, but it's also what inspires otherwise polite and agreeable gentlemen to speak in ways that suggest they are irrational knuckleheads.  Far too scarce are political opinions steeped in pragmatism and common sense.  Commonly shared political opinions tend to be bold, exaggerated, and passed down from generation to generation.  Show me the loud-mouth asshole stirring up a political argument in a bar, and I'll show you someone whose father was a loud-mouth asshole that enjoyed stirring up political arguments in bars.

The generational nature of political beliefs carries a certain weight when you become the generation dispensing lessons, rather than receiving them.  Many parenting lessons are simple - baseball is awesome, firecrackers are dangerous, and school may suck sometimes, but unemployment sucks worse.  Do your homework.  Politics is different.  Our country operates almost entirely in gray areas, but the national political narrative is constructed in the black and white of a two-party existence.   

The only bearable way I see to handle this education with my son is to check politics at the door and focus on patriotism.  

Despite what he may see on television, radio, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and every platform that gives access to an opinionated blowhard, neither party is more patriotic than the other.  That's lesson one; there are so many reasons to love this country, don't make the mistake of believing your reason is more valid or righteous than others.

Sleeper Cell

My son lives in an amazing country.  He is going to have privileges he won't even know are privileges because he was lucky enough to be born here.  He will also come to find out that because he was born in this country, in this era, political rhetoric is going to be entirely unavoidable.

The late comedian, George Carlin - a great American I will teach my son about with complete bias and appreciation - stated the degree to which you believe someone is an asshole is directly related to your physical distance from that person when you make the discovery.  When you see a guy giving the checkout girl a hard time at the grocery store because a special didn't ring up properly, you're inclined to say - under your breath - to the person next to you, "that guy's kind of an asshole."  Meanwhile, when a political analyst is beamed to your television from a studio 1,000 miles away, you stand and yell, "WHAT A FUCKING ASSHOLE!!!"

The internet has given everyone the ability to share their bold opinions from the safe distance Carlin references.  The result is an overwhelming amount of negativity, misinformation, and incendiary trolling on social media.  Instead of giving these people the 42 comment threads they desire on their Facebook page, I will encourage my son to close the browser and do something productive.  Any act, great or small, that positively impacts those around you, is the truest form of patriotism.  Snarky remarks about poor people or warmongers on social media may draw a crowd of like-minded people, but they accomplish nothing.

When he is old enough, we will look back at some of the seminal moments that shaped our country, and for those in my adult life, I will do my best to explain their meaning without bias or prejudice.

When showing him images and video of George W. Bush delivering his iconic speech from Ground Zero, we will not discuss the political implications.  It is easy for conservatives to give an explanation of a great man in, possibly, his greatest moment.  To speak of a leader picking up a wounded nation by displaying the courage and confidence of a wartime president.  For liberals, it is easy to launch into a tangent about non-existent WMDs and the politicizing of a true American tragedy for years following.

I will pass on the hero worship, as well as the bitter cut-downs.  There will be no description of America's greatest moment, nor will there be a back-handed Dark Knight-themed compliment about not being the hero we deserved, but the hero we needed at the time.  Instead I will talk about a traumatic time in our nation's history, and how in a sensational moment, an imperfect man elected to lead a nation of imperfect citizens, perfectly captured the sentiment of a shaken collective.  And we were better for it.

We'll watch Barack Obama's victory speech without talking about healthcare reform or controversial Chicago pastors.  When my son asks me about the outpouring of raw emotion from the tens of thousands of people in attendance, I will not launch into a speech about the end of racism.  I will also refrain from derogatory commentary attributing their tears to the realization that retirement was no longer an option in socialist America.

I'll tell my son that every four years we hold an election, the results of which upset nearly half of those who voted.  But regardless of how you feel about the man in office, one of the pillars of America's greatness is that any child - even you - have the opportunity to one day hold that office.  Unfortunately, there were multiple generations of Americans who felt excluded from that dream, and this moment made them believe otherwise.  Those people were crying because dreams are that important.

I want my son to love his country unapologetically, and I don't want him to fear speaking his mind when compelled to do so.  I just don't want him to be a loud-mouth asshole starting fights, based on a bumper sticker or Facebook status worth of political knowledge.  That's not being patriotic, it's being a dick.

1 comment:

  1. Within the realm of my government class, I expressed many times that compromise is the only way things get accomplished in a democratic society. Our democratic system, while skewed by the aristocracy of our population is a beautious thing to behold only when we work together to make tomorrow better that today for as many people as we can. Our founding fathers said that politics gets in the way because of its partisan nature. To say I am not partisan would be to lie, but to say I have or anyone has a monopoly on what is the best answer to all the problems of this great nation is just crazy. As a nation, we are and have been imperfect. We will continue to be imperfect, but if we can all live up to the high standards that our nations history causes us to aspire to, then all we can do is the best we can do for we cannot do more than the best we can do. Love mercy and seek justice my friend you are on the track less traveled and I love the view here as will you