Back in July, I wrote a very popular open letter to President Trump in response to his speech in front of Mount Rushmore wherein he accused public schools of indoctrinating students to “hate America.” Well, I’m back for another round. This past week, the president doubled down by announcing that he will create a “Patriotic Education Commission” so that schools will be forced by “patriotic parents” to “stop teaching about what America has done wrong” and “start teaching about freedoms.” When I heard this announcement, I was gobsmacked. It has become clear to me that our president and those who still support him—most particularly, the far-right Christians—do not understand the concept of patriotism whatsoever. As a teacher of American history for the past 20 years, I feel it is my duty to try and deliver to them a lesson on patriotism and American freedoms.
First, let me start with what patriotism is not. Patriotism is not blind loyalty to your country. Let’s say that again, real slowly…patriotism is not blind loyalty to your country. In fact—and you may want to sit down and brace yourselves here—patriotism sometimes can look like the opposite of being blindly loyal to your country. Allow me to explain.
You know those founding fathers that you love to claim envisioned a Christian nation when they designed the United States, far-right Christian Trump supporters? Sometimes I think you lose sight of the fact that they were traitors to their country when they decided to go it alone and declare independence. Had they been unsuccessful in their protests, riots, and bloody revolution, they would have been executed for treason and history would have marked them down as unfaithful rebel-rousers and thrown them on the scrap heap with untold numbers of other failed visionaries of history. But they were successful, so they are called Patriots. They were certainly not blindly loyal to their country when they declared independence from it at then went to war with it. In a way, they were more like those southern Confederates whose flag some of you still like to tote around in some twisted, bizarre statement of freedom you try to make. The difference is, the founding fathers won, and the Confederates lost.
Then, those newly christened “Patriots” set about the task of designing a constitution that was meant to ensure that nobody should ever be forced into blind loyalty to their country. Those freedoms you love to claim came at a heavy price and they extend to EVERYONE. However, history has shown us that the far-right Christians of American history have been consistently at work to try to limit those freedoms to only those who subscribe to their world view. This practice began more than a century before anyone dared whisper about an independent United States of America. When the Puritans fled England in search of “religious freedom” they found what they were looking for in Massachusetts. Then guess what they did…they immediately set up a church with strict rules to limit the freedoms of everyone here. Only church members could vote, women had no rights to even speak out on their religious convictions, and before long, the colony began to splinter into other colonies of people looking to free themselves from the tyrannical Puritan leadership. Eventually, it all came to a head when 20 people in Salem were executed because they wouldn’t confess to being witches. It seems religious freedom wasn’t what it was cracked up to be back then any more than it is now when it comes to far-right Christians.
All this makes me wonder exactly what President Trump and his far-right Christian supporters would have me teach my students about patriotism and our American rights. Am I supposed to teach that everyone is equal and ignore the elephant in the room that screams about Native Americans, African Americans, women, the sick, the poor, immigrants, LGBT, etc. who have a very different story to tell when it comes to equality? If that is the case, you’ll have to find someone else to teach your kids.
Now, let’s talk about what patriotism is.
Patriotism is loyalty to the high ideals of your country.
Patriotism is the willingness to stand up for those who are marginalized by governments that do not live up to your country’s mission statement.
Patriotism is demanding that others have the same rights as you, even when they are living in diametric opposition to your belief system.
Patriotism is the understanding that your religious beliefs are your own and that they have no place in a government of, by, and for ALL the people of this nation.
Patriotism is understanding that what makes our country great is the idea that NONE of us are truly free until ALL of us are truly free.
God bless America, let freedom ring.