You Say You Love Your Country? OK – Let’s See What That Means

Love is a Complicated Thing – with a Person or a Country


America – Love It or Leave It

Remember that phrase? It was not a new sentiment, but the phrase became part of the national lexicon during the Nixon era. The national divisions over the Vietnam war had developed into a broader national division. Nixon and Agnew fanned the divisions and that phrase got repeated (most often, got yelled) a lot.

The implication, of course, was that any criticism of the country, and by extension of the government, was wrong and was unpatriotic. It is hard to imagine a more un-American thought, but it had its fans. It still does.

Two Kinds of Love

We have all seen healthy love and we have all seen obsessive love between people. I think the same sort of classifications apply to one’s feelings for the country as well. The characteristics seem similar, and the effects certainly are parallel.  Let’s take a look, shall we?

Obsessive Love

The defining characteristic of what I think of as obsessive love is a blindness, often accompanied with an angry refusal to see any faults with the object of that affection. Remember that great old song by Percy Sledge (and later by Otis Redding), “When a Man Loves a Woman”? That pretty well describes the state of mind. (In case you forgot the song, here you go: ).

This is an unhealthy state of affairs on so many counts. There is no room for growth or development. The smitten person would not know how to answer the question, “Do you also like them?” Any suggestion of faults, errors, or defects is seen as an attack against which a defense must be mounted.

It is difficult to imagine such a relationship being healthy in any way. The person in such a state must be constantly agitated, on defense, and having to deal with inconsistencies that reality forces upon them.

Healthy Love (and Genuine Patriotism)

A far healthier love (of country or person) begins with actually liking the object of affection, as well as loving them. In the case of our country, it certainly does celebrate the highlights: much of our history, our form of government, the unique nature of our national makeup.

But one also loves the country for what it can be, what it should aspire to be. To do that, calls on citizens to face up to our shortfalls and ugly parts of our history as well. We call them out because we care, because we think the country is capable of living up to its ideals.

We are not afraid to say we can do better. Nor are we shy about acknowledging the lasting damage of past and present transgressions. Because to deny them is a false love and an admission that we cannot rise to the occasion.

Maybe this is another form of “tough love;” we want the best for the country and for its citizens, all of them. And so, we recognize what has been done – good and bad – and call forth our better nature to keep trying to perfect this union. We think this country is so full of possibilities. We want it to be what it is capable of becoming.

That will only happen if we help by telling the truth and keeping at the work.

Two Different Americas?

Pretending all is well, for everyone, and that we have no institutional or historic shortcomings is a bit pathetic. This is willful blindness that reminds me of a child throwing a temper tantrum.

Having said that, I understand how some can feel everything they know is under attack. If those of us who push for change cannot also celebrate what has and is good, if we can only cite the negative, we should not expect many converts.

Who knows, maybe if we figure out how to seek justice and understanding, we get better results. How hard could that be?  Don’t ask! Just keep at it, America. We are forever a work in progress. There are national discussions going on now that I thought I was unlikely to ever see. Maybe we will get there yet.

          Bill Clontz

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