Tomorrow is Independence Day in the United States. Americans will celebrate declaring their independence from the British Crown in 1776. Hopefully many will take time to reflect on what their country stands for and what makes it unique in the world.
I recommend reflecting on the idea of patriotism itself. What makes patriotism, a generally good thing, different from nationalism, which usually leads to many terrible things? There is definitely a fine line between the two concepts. Nationalism vs patriotism is one of the oldest arguments in history.
What is a patriotism? Lawrence Reed at the Foundation for Economic Education has an excellent definition.
I subscribe to a patriotism rooted in ideas that in turn gave birth to a country, but it’s the ideas that I think of when I’m feeling patriotic. I’m a patriotic American because I revere the ideas that motivated the Founders and compelled them, in many instances, to put their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor on the line.
What ideas? Read the Declaration of Independence again. Or, if you’re like most Americans these days, read it for the very first time. It’s all there. All men are created equal. They are endowed not by government but by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. Premier among those rights are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Government must be limited to protecting the peace and preserving our liberties, and doing so through the consent of the governed. It’s the right of a free people to rid themselves of a government that becomes destructive of those ends, as our Founders did in a supreme act of courage and defiance more than two hundred years ago.
Call it freedom. Call it liberty. Call it whatever you want, but it’s the bedrock on which this nation was founded and from which we stray at our peril. It’s what has defined us as Americans. It’s what almost everyone who has ever lived on this planet has yearned for. It makes life worth living, which means it’s worth fighting and dying for.
Or as Benjamin Franklin said, ““Where liberty dwells, there is my country.”
America is more than just a place, it’s an ideal. It’s a land where people are free to say what they want, believe what they want, and do what they want as long as they don’t hurt others or destroy their stuff. It’s a land where everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their life. It’s a land where people govern themselves and no government can exist without the consent of the governed.
We believe all men are created equal and are always equal in the eyes of their Creator.
A patriot believes in an ideal, not in a particular place. There is nothing exceptional about a country that has no ideals.
Nationalism on the other hand is all about flag-waving, a particular place, or even a particular ethnic group or religion. It is a mentality of “my country, right or wrong” instead of being an honest critic where necessary of one’s government. It often includes hatred of those who are different.
What worries me is that for far too many Americans this country is becoming less about ideals and more about a place on the map. The second we stray from our ideals is the second America is no longer worth celebrating.
It seems logical that every American, regardless of political affiliation/philosophy, race, religion or creed, would be concerned about the revelations concerning domestic spying on the part of the NSA. If the Obama administration can spy on and mistreat the Tea Party and other right wing causes, the next Republican administration could spy on and mistreat Occupy Wall Street and other left wing causes.
As it turns out, this is not necessarily the case. According to an article by David A. Love, the black community has largely greeted this news with a shrug and a yawn.
Is this lack of concern because many blacks do not want to be critical of the first black* president? This might account for some of this shrugging but Love suspects that there is something much deeper at work here:
The black community has decades of experience being monitored, so this type of surveillance is nothing new. Given the long history of being spied upon, many blacks already assume they are being monitored by the government […] […] African-Americans are no strangers to surveillance, as their activities were highly regulated through the slave codes, laws which controlled both slaves and free blacks.
The mistreatment of blacks did not end when slavery was abolished, of course. Love goes on to describe several other atrocities such as the Tuskegee experiment, J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal spying on Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and others.
As I read this, I wondered why there isn’t a similar distrust of the government as the medical establishment by blacks in general. The Tuskegee experiments were done at the behest of the U.S. Public Health Service, after all!
After finishing the article, I decided to read through the comments section (this is a blog that is dedicated primarily with concerns of the black community; the comments can sometimes be very illuminating). The very first comment by a user with the handle “Blackheywood Heywood” did not disappoint:
The US government began spying on Black folks before this government was created, yet it was no outrage.Give me a break, it seems slowly mainstream America is discovering how it feels to be thought of as suspicious or guilty before being accused, never mind arrested. Welcome to the world of the American Black male.
Heywood has a valid point. The answer to the question why the lack of outrage by the black community concerning the NSA and IRS scandals could just as easily turned against what Heywood called “mainstream America.” Indeed, where was the right (for lack of a better term) on these outrages? Where has the Tea Party been on the question of “stop and frisk,” in New York in which minorities are especially targeted to be searched, supposedly at random? Is this simply a case of “out of sight, out of mind?”
I believe there’s also another phenomenon at work: the memory hole. Near the close of the article, Love mentioned an event that took place in Philadelphia in 1985 I was completely unaware of:
On May 13, 1985, following a standoff, a Philadelphia police helicopter dropped a bomb on the house on Osage Avenue occupied by the black “radical” group known as MOVE. Police reportedly fired on MOVE members as they escaped the burning home […] […] The 1985 bombing—which killed 11 people, including 5 children and destroyed an entire neighborhood of 61 row homes in West Philadelphia—marked the first such attack on U.S. citizens by government authorities. The survivors and victims’ families received $5.5 million in compensation from the city of Philadelphia.
I try my best to be informed about historical events as well as current events. How is it that this is the first I had ever heard about the Philadelphia Police dropping a freaking bomb on a neighborhood in an American city?** I must have been sick that day in American History class (I also didn’t learn about the Tuskegee experiments until well into my twenties; maybe I was sick on that day as well).
Maybe MOVE was a radical organization maybe it wasn’t*** but nothing could justify the police dropping a bomb on a neighborhood. Perhaps this atrocity is well known by people in the black community, both young and old but not so much outside the black community (or maybe I’m one of the few Americans who never heard about this but I doubt it).
MOVE probably wasn’t the first group the government described as “extreme” to a point where government officials ordered and used military force against its members; it certainly wasn’t the last. How many people out of a hundred know about what happened at Ruby Ridge? The Weaver family, why they were “extremists” after all and therefore, why should anyone care about their rights? How many people out of a hundred know about the conflicting accounts of what really happened at assault on the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas? (Here’s a hint: a great deal more than what the MSM reported at the time). I suppose because these people were part of some sort of cult, their rights didn’t matter either!
This is where the real problem of indifference lies. I’ve heard far too many people with the attitude “it’s not my problem” or “it doesn’t affect me”. Even more disturbing is the attitude some people have that they are happy when someone of an opposing view has his or her rights of life, liberty, and/or property trampled on (i.e. “Screw them, they are ‘extremists’”). Far too often, concerns about civil liberties depend on whose ox is being gored at that particular time.
I would like to humbly suggest that if you are not as upset when its someone else’s ox, even if it’s the ox of your opponent’s, one day it will be your ox that will be gored. Perhaps Martin Niemoller said it best in his very short work “First they Came” describing how the Nazis took freedom away from the whole population, one group at a time. By the time the Nazis got around to taking freedom from what remained of the population, Niemoller concluded “there was no one left to speak for me.”
To be clear, I am not comparing the U.S. government to the Nazis. Such hyperbolic comparisons are not constructive and minimize the very crimes against humanity the Nazis committed. I am making a comparison about how populations respond to encroachments on liberty, however. As demonstrated in Love’s article, there are plenty of examples of injustice from American history.
Here are just a handful more:
The Indian Removal Act
The internment of Japanese Americans
And many, many more.
Each of these policies were permitted to happen because the majority apparently felt that curtailing freedoms of these minorities would somehow not affect their own freedoms. We should acknowledge that these injustices occurred and try to learn the right lessons (rather than pretend the U.S. government or the American people have committed no wrongs ever) and move on.
Every injustice and every violation of rights of life, liberty, and property must be answered by all of us as if it’s our own liberty that is at stake.
*Yes, I’m aware that Obama is actually half black. However, if a man of his description was accused of committing a crime and at large, he would be described as a black man.
**In light of this, Rand Paul’s questions about government using drones to attack Americans on American soil no longer seem so far fetched, unfortunately.
***All I know is what I read in the cited article.
Words cannot adequately describe the horrific shooting at an Orlando nightclub on Sunday the 12th that killed 49 and wounded 53. Such unthinkable acts deserve to draw strict scrutiny. When things like this happen, it’s important to bear in mind that we are America, and that we were founded on the bedrock principles of freedom. Further, as Ben Franklin was quoted as saying, those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.
It’s a lesson we did not learn after 9/11, passing the Patriot Act and creating the Department of Homeland Security and the Transportation Security Administration. These three things, in addition to others, did nothing to adequately address the threat of terrorist actors while severely curtailing the liberty, and therefore the quality of life, of the average American, subjecting them to excessive lines at airports, the security theatre of removing their shoes and “joke-free” zones, and the 100 mile “Constitution free zone” that encompasses the entire land mass of at least six states. Arguably, these laws, regulations and standing orders made Americans less secure, due to the illusion of safety and the increased reliance on government.
The days since the Pulse shooting are shaping up to be along those lines, as we continually learn the exact wrong lessons from an act of terror by an individual who was clearly unhinged. In an effort to do something, government is overreaching – never let a good tragedy go to waste, after all – and a complicit public is allowing it on a bipartisan level. Even if their goals are different, the end result is the same. » Read more
I just received the news that Libertarian Party activist Dr. Marc Feldman died earlier today. The LP posted the following press release:
2016 candidate for the Libertarian Party’s nomination for president and newly re-elected at-large member of the Libertarian National Committee passed away on Tuesday. The cause of death is not known at the time of this writing.
Nicholas Sarwark, LP Chair, released the following statement:
“Members of the Libertarian Party are deeply saddened to learn of Dr. Feldman’s passing. He grew up cynical about politics and politicians, but found in the Libertarian Party a politics of empowering individuals that he could believe in. We will miss his dedication as? a member of the national committee and candidate for public office,? but most of all, I will miss a good friend. He was a delightful,? spirited, and dedicated Libertarian who inspired and won the hearts of? many. Our deepest condolences to his family on their loss.”
Fellow presidential candidates, with whom he shared the debate stage at numerous Libertarian conventions, expressed their condolences.
Libertarian presidential nominee Gov. Gary Johnson said, “I am saddened to hear of the loss of Marc Feldman. He was a true champion of liberty and a friend to many of us. His humor and wit will be missed.”
“God speed, Dr. Feldman,” said software entrepreneur John McAfee. “You were a gentleman and a scholar. Rest easy now. We’ll take it from here.”
“I got to know Marc over the last seven months in the campaign trail,” said radio host Darryl Perry. “We became friends and I respected his opinions. I send my condolences to his family and other friends. Shalom.”
“I’m very sorry to hear that Dr. Marc Feldman passed away,” said Libertarian Republic founder Austin Petersen. “He was a good man. He was very entertaining. He could have been a fantastic host of a Libertarian television show.”
To be honest, I don’t know who many of the players are within the Libertarian Party. Marc Feldman is not really a name that rings a bell. But then I saw his picture and I wondered: “Wait, is he that libertarian?” (Dr. Feldman has ‘one of those faces’ you remember).
The libertarian that gave that speech at the 2016 National Libertarian Party Convention before the delegates began voting for their party’s nominee?
I’m sad to report that yes, that libertarian is no longer with us.
Here is that speech:
That speech puts a smile on my face whenever I hear it. There’s something about that speech that makes me want to do a fist pump because we’ve all been that libertarian at one time or another (it seems Austin Petersen felt the same way).
Thank you Dr. Feldman for your efforts to make the world a freer place. Rest in Peace.
Katie Couric is taking heat for a misleadingly edited scene in her new gun control documentary called Under the Gun, which is currently airing on the cable channel EPIX. In the scene, Couric asks a group of gun rights supporters how we can prevent “felons or terrorists” from purchasing guns if we fail to perform background checks.
In response, her interviewees are seemingly stumped by the question, relegated to awkward silence. For nine seconds, they twitch and shift and flutter their eyes. One looks off into the distance, searching for an answer.
It is laughable to anyone who has not reduced gun rights supporters to caricatures.
To be sure, the question is a confusingly worded one. What is the set of circumstances in which someone walking around free, buying guns, would be revealed by background check as a “felon” or “terrorist?” If Couric meant convicted felons and terrorists, then presumably they are in prison, not out buying guns. If she meant convicted felons and terrorists who have served their time and been permitted back into society, then there is a legitimate question as to whether their Constitutional rights should be restored. In any event, we already have laws precluding convicted felons from owning guns and requiring background checks to ensure they do not.
However the question is meant to be interpreted, it is not exactly groundbreaking. This is not new terrain. This is not something gun rights advocates have never considered. The vast majority of gun rights supporters have already extensively considered this issue and come to a reasoned opinion.
Thus, to anyone in the gun rights community, Couric’s footage is an easily identifiable fraud. Unsurprisingly, audio footage obtained by the Washington Free Beacon has confirmed it to be precisely that. What actually occurred, as would be expected, was that the interviewees gave immediate, polite responses to the question.
In fact, with varying degrees of clarity and eloquence, they tried to articulate the points I raised above. Their responses may not have been the best way to cover those points in the film. If the director had wanted to play Couric asking the question and then explore responsive concepts in some other manner, I doubt anyone would have faulted the creative decision. But manufacturing nine seconds of awkward, twitchy silence suggests the director had another goal in mind.
Called out on the manipulative editing, director Stephanie Soechtig explained that her intention was to “provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question” and that she “never intended to make anyone look bad.” Shortly thereafter, Couric said she supported Soechtig’s statement and was “very proud of the film.”
There are a couple different ways to interpret all of this.
One is that Soechtig and/or Couric are being dishonest about their motivation for altering the footage. The real reason was to perpetuate a narrative in which gun rights supporters are portrayed as reckless and ignorant, red state dullards without the most basic concerns for public safety. Showing the interviewees answering the question—or cutting away without playing the nine manufactured seconds of silence—would detract from that narrative and leave an unfortunate impression that gun rights supporters actually have reasons for their positions.
Alternatively, Soechtig/Couric are telling the truth. It is not gun supporters they perceive as simple, but rather their own audience. The viewers needed those nine extra seconds of silence to confront such a groundbreaking question, to wrap their neophyte minds around its unprecedented implications.
Or perhaps there is simply a strange sort of narcissism at play. In this interpretation, it is Soechtig/Couric who are the simpletons. In their minds, no one had ever confronted this mind-blowing question until Katie Couric so amazingly thought of it. Playing the actual footage would have interfered with viewers’ appreciation of Couric’s prowess in asking this life-altering question. So instead the filmmakers faked some footage to leave a more suitable impression.
It is certainly possible to be both a journalist and an activist. While I do not always agree with his positions, I acknowledge that Glenn Greenwald does both so well that each component is made more powerful by the other. It works because he is honest and transparent about the activism, while approaching the journalism part ethically and with humility.
In contrast, altering footage to show something that flat out did not happen is neither journalism nor a particularly competent form of activism. It is storytelling for naïve audiences. It is fundamentally dishonest and narcissistic. And it will not promote dialogue about gun safety.