Looking Back – And Looking Forward

The last blog I wrote was a reflection on patriotism. I’ve actually written about what it means to be an American several times leading up to and after the 2016 election. I’d like to think most of it’s been aspirational and about what represents the best of us. The work has been centered on values and what makes us special. This weekend, one of my friends recommended that I write about the flip side of that, what we don’t want to represent.

I struggled with that suggestion because I’m naturally drawn to the positive. I’m drawn to the collage above and what we all beam proudly about. We’re proud over the Miracle on Ice. We marvel at the 50th anniversary of the moon landing. Our national icons speak to freedom and perseverance. Words like “Four score…” and “I have a dream…” and “We choose to go to the moon…” matter to us. The images associated with them bring us together because they focus on the challenges, the triumphs.

Truth be told, even the bad moments can draw us together. We’ve had lots of moments of darkness. “A date which will live in infamy…” is a solemn phrase, but not one which divided us. No, the worst moments in American history tend to be those like the Civil War, Trail of Tears, Selma, or Parkland. Those divide us and their memories divide us because we know that we either did something which went against who we want to be or struggled to know what the right thing was as a nation.

Patriotism is loving your country and wanting its values and actions to represent something positive to the rest of the world.”


Those times have the deepest wounds and linger the longest. The lessons take decades to learn and they’re often not completely put to bed. The worst of them, the ones which take the longest or never heal at all, are those which treat others as less. Those are ugly and they don’t heal because they’re personal. They’re the opposite of even the unifying disasters such as Pearl Harbor. They’re also used to manipulate and control rather than lead which drives a further wedge. They tell us that others are not only wrong, but want to destroy the country, they aren’t patriots, they aren’t capable of loving the nation, they can’t be Americans.

The people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders, that is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for a lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country

Hermann Göring

Quoting Hermann Göring is probably a shock at this point. I find it so. The problem is that it’s now. I saw this happening from Trump’s escalator ride announcement and it’s happening now with his attacks on four congresswomen whom he claims aren’t capable of loving the country. Describing people who chant “Send her back” as patriots is divisive, wounding, and manipulative. It’s also a direct path from that escalator.

It’s not an accident and it’s only going to get worse the closer to the 2020 election. It makes you wonder how we’ll look back on “They’re brining drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.” because those words tell us to turn turn backs to what we’re most proud of. They bring forth and rely on our darkest moments as a nation. And I fear they’re going to take decades to try to heal.

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