Political Animal


July 04, 2012 10:44 AM America-Hating Patriots and Other Mysteries of the 4th

By Ed Kilgore

I’m always at a bit of a loss as to what to say on this big patriotic occasion. I’m as “American” in background, outlook, and life-experiences as anyone you’d meet. I belong to a distinctly American religious community, born on the Kentucky frontier long after Independence. I’m probably most at home among rednecks and African-Americans, whose cuisine and music I also tend to prefer. I’ve never lived anywhere else, or had any romantic idea that life was superior elsewhere. To my shame, and despite dabbling in many, I speak no languages other than English with any fluidity. I am passionate about college football, and God help me, still find soccer boring.

But like a lot of progressives, I’m made a bit uncomfortable by displays of super-patriotism, because so many of our national symbols and traditions have been bent to divisive and destructive causes. Most recently, thanks to the influence of a movement that is self-saturated in the regalia and rhetoric of the American Revolution, we have seen the “Spirit of ‘76” incessantly deployed to suggest that roughly half of Americans are evil looters, and that indeed America has been ever-more-systematically betraying its heritage since the 1930s, or longer.

A casual look around the internet for big July 4 statements turned up a plethora of angry expressions of America-hatred—invariably from the super-patriot Right. Read the following exerpts from a piece at Forbes by Bill Frezza, and tell me if you think this man actually loves America:

Why do we still celebrate Independence Day? Is it a lingering habit, a mindless bit of nostalgia, a time to indulge in fireworks and barbecues, devoid of any deeper meaning? Can anyone honestly argue that our nation still honors the values, or practices the principles, for which our Founders fought?
Today, most Americans have been trained to be embarrassed by the “extremist” individualist ethos that made the protection of liberty the primary purpose of government. They have been taught to apologize for the shortcomings of the “rich white men” who led the revolution. A majority of Americans now subscribe to an expansive view of government as both great provider and beneficent leveler. Its primary purpose is to redress unequal or unhappy outcomes, regardless of their source, through wealth redistribution on a scale so vast that it mocks the concept “private property….”
Little by little, the home of the brave and the land of the free has become a nation of rent-seeking dependents clamoring for their share of state largess. Even before the latest entitlement blowout called Obamacare, we crossed the line where more than half of Americans receive some kind of assistance from the government every month, paid for by the fewer than half that still pay income taxes. As we move into the future and the number of dependents grows while the taxpayer pool shrinks, we call the result social justice rather than its old name: theft….
If we were still a nation capable of shame with enough intellectual integrity to call things as they are, if we hadn’t debauched our language as badly as our currency, if we had the courage to look in the mirror and see how woefully we have squandered our Founders’ legacy, this Fourth of July would be a day not of celebration but of atonement.

Interesting that you never see self-styled patriots read something like this and say: “Hey, love it or leave it, ungrateful jerk!” or echo Merle Haggard’s taunt: “You love our milk and honey, but preach about some other way of living/If you’re running down my country, hoss, you’re walking on the fighting side of me.”

Maybe progressives make a mistake in not calling out people like Frezza whose horror at having to share this country with the likes of me and you makes him by any standard un-patriotic, in the grips of a global ideology that is no more essentially “American” than fascism was essentially “Italian.”

I’m perfectly happy on this and any other day devoted to communal, civic celebrations to put aside differences and tip my hat (or a beer) to neighbors I know don’t agree with me on much of anything that makes up the daily bread of politics. But I’m no longer going to quietly accept lectures on patriotism from people who hate my country because they don’t rule it and my vote is equal to theirs.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.


  • TR on July 04, 2012 10:55 AM:

    Conservatives believe that the best way to show how much you love America is to show how many different kinds of Americans you hate.

  • Michael W on July 04, 2012 11:18 AM:

    I weep for how far my country has wandered since these words below were attached to the base of the Statue of Liberty. We no longer welcome immigrants with open arms. One political party wants to deport innocent immigrant children who were brought here through no fault of their own. While many of us TRY to take care of the sick and destitute, one political party wants to take funds and resources away from those efforts. While many professed religious people claim piety and adherence to their purported god's law, I see the majority religion in this country abandoning the red-letter sentences in their "holy" book and following the new "prosperity" gospel, the very opposite of the very basis of their religion--Love god, Love your neighbor as yourself.

    With Independence Day here, I weep for what has become of America.

    I weep for what used to be Christianity.

    "The New Colossus"

    Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
    With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
    Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
    A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
    Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
    Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
    Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
    The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
    "Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
    With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
    Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
    The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
    Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
    I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

    Emma Lazarus, 1883

  • berttheclock on July 04, 2012 11:20 AM:

    I especially love the conservative version of "TLIML" with the lyrics of "This land is not the BLM's land, but, keep those subsidies a'flowin'.

    In Southern Oregon, taxpayers in those counties have refused to raise any taxes to keep the court system and law enforcement units functioning. Prisoners have had to be released due to no money to keep the jails operating. Yet, these "Get Government Off Our Backs", are thrilled to see Congress, reluctantly, release timber money to those counties. Supposedly, this will be the last time for such. Those folks have lived off the timber money for decades and believe it is their right. The money was supposed to help the folks adjust to the cutback in timber operations, so, they could adjust to a new economy. Similar to the wealthy Republican farmers in Kansas who just adore government subsidies, but, decry those "Welfare Queens" in KCK and Wichita.

    However, one of my favorite right wing patriotic displays is to see automobiles with conservative bumper stickers attached display a single US flag on the wrong side of their autos. When, anyone displays a single US flag on a car, it is to be displayed on the right side and never the left. I love to call out to the drivers, "Hey, only Commies fly the flag on the left". As, road rage commencing.

  • Steve LaBonne on July 04, 2012 11:22 AM:

    I've been saying for a while that the antipatriotism of the American right makes me think of the antipatriotism of the future collaborators in the French right between the wars.

  • lou on July 04, 2012 11:26 AM:

    If government was such a great leveler wouldn't at least one representative from the last 3 generations of the Romney dynasty have served in the military? And if government was such a great leveler, how did such an abysmal distribution of wealth occur in the US in the last 30 years?

    Guess the sum of all these "excepts" is something exceptional. The gubment sure has its work cut out for it if it can possibly keep up with the tectonic plates at work in the US. With all the power going to the growing mountain of wealth you got to wonder about all the wailing and gnashing of teeth on their side of the divide.

  • Anonymous on July 04, 2012 11:28 AM:

    "more than half of Americans receive some kind of assistance from the government every month, paid for by the fewer than half that still pay income taxes"

    Presumably the author includes those who are 62+ in both categories. A bit of circular "logic".

  • berttheclock on July 04, 2012 11:31 AM:

    @Steve LaBonne, it might be very interesting to know Alan Furst's views on that.

  • Anonymous on July 04, 2012 11:36 AM:

    I see that I didn't phrase the above quite right. Those 62+'ers not (currently) paying taxes now receive some kind of assistance. Yet they, or their spouse, did pay into the system through payroll and income taxes. I guess they're just a bunch of unpatriotic freeloaders now. Funny how so many of the teapartiers fit that description but don't see it.

    I'm not sure if you can access this, but here's thre real truth: http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10151217540085968&set=a.121478005967.124121.6851405967&type=1&theater

  • emeris on July 04, 2012 11:39 AM:

    I would agree that the country is being taken over by rent-seekers who live on government largess, but I would identify the rent seekers as most of the financial sector, including Mitt Romney.

  • Werewolf on July 04, 2012 11:45 AM:

    Republican version of "This Land is Your Land":

    This land ain't your land, this land is my land,
    I got a shotgun, and you ain't got one,
    If you don't get off I'll blow your head off,
    This land was only made for me.

  • TCinLA on July 04, 2012 12:24 PM:

    "But I’m no longer going to quietly accept lectures on patriotism from people who hate my country because they don’t rule it and my vote is equal to theirs."

    I've never been willing to listen to the lectures of these "newcomers." My family in North America goes back to way before the United States was the United States. Since bumping into North America in 1680 and not running into the good "Pilgrim Fathers" who would have put a hot poker through the tongues of my male Quaker ancestors for their heresy and burned the women at the stake as witches, we have been in opposition to the "patriots" who know nothing. As a liberal who has among other items in my home the sword taken from the Sergeant of the Guard at Trenton Barracks by my six-times-great grandfather who crossed the Delaware with Washington as one of the 1,500 real patriots who were still in the Continental Army that cold Christmas morning, I love listening to some idiot who never served (or if he did never made it out of the warehouse back in the rear, with the gear) tell me that me and mine - who saved the Revolution that Christmas day in 1776 and saved the Republic at Little Round Top 150 years ago - are "communists" for our beliefs.

    Sadly, these morons have been around a long, long time, as the history I put above demonstrates. It is up to those of us who do understand what America is about to defend that against the morons in each and every generation.

  • c u n d gulag on July 04, 2012 12:33 PM:

    I think they confuse who was who in the Revolutionary War.

    The King, and the Royalists here in America, were the CONSERVATIVES!

    And our FOUNDING FATHERS, and the Minute Men, WERE THE LIBERALS!!!

    States rights and "The Articles of Confederation" didn't work, so they created a more Liberal, national, document - known as "The Constitution."

    Conservatives - you really should read it sometime!


  • BC on July 04, 2012 12:34 PM:

    Funny how he never mentions the torture regime of Bush as one of the things that shame us, isn't it? It's always that the have-nots might get something. They just hate most of their fellow Americans.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 04, 2012 12:42 PM:

    I'm increasingly embarrassed by lapel-wearing of the flag. (Yeah, politicians and Jay Leno, I'm talking to you.) It this sort of cheap, meaningless self-congratulation that doubles as a sort of brow-beating to others patriotism that sickens me.

    Then there's the stomach-turning chants of

    USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! USA! .....

    at the most inappropriate times that nearly makes an apology to the rest of the world mandatory.

    I NEVER listened to the lectures from the right about who hates America and who loves America and who's ideas are better for the future of the country. In fact, I get in their face about it: "Why do YOU hate America so much you simple-minded Republican jerk?" is usually close to my response. Almost invariably it's the same people who profess to have such great patriotism that are working to make it a lesser nation. You know, the Republicans.

    Democrats need to learn to get in the faces of Republicans, then give them a good kick in the balls.

  • DisgustedWithItAll on July 04, 2012 12:43 PM:

    What's with the italics?

  • Roddy McCorley on July 04, 2012 12:54 PM:

    I’m made a bit uncomfortable by displays of super-patriotism, because so many of our national symbols and traditions have been bent to divisive and destructive causes.

    There is that. I'm a bit uncomfortable because these symbols have become a substitute for any thought or understanding of what the events of the American Revolution entailed. Heck, we can't even be bothered to grasp what those events were.

    It's a hell of a story, one that has inspired people all over the world. All over the world, that is, except for one place. That place is... America. We've managed to make the story tedious. We took all the danger and drama out of it, reduced it to dates to be memorized, and made sure that every schoolchild exposed to it would be driven to stare out the window to look at the clouds instead.

    Before we made the Founders "dead white men" to be excoriated, we made them plaster saints to be ignored. They were - are - too dangerous as revolutionaries, so we locked them safely away on our currency and used them to sell mattresses instead.

    Shame on us.

    Happy Fourth.

    (And tell those kids to get off my lawn!)

  • millekat on July 04, 2012 1:14 PM:

    igh...when we're being buried in this meretricious shit, I do usually adopt the Cordelian standard:

    "[Aside] What shall Cordelia do?
    Love, and be silent." -- King Lear I, i.

    Okay, so it did not end well.

    Strikes me as the proper answer, if not exactly the safe one.

  • berttheclock on July 04, 2012 1:24 PM:

    However, it does disturb me to see Progressives and/or Liberals cede certain areas of showing one's patriotic spirit to the right. I know several who refuse to fly the American flag. Both yesterday and today, I have our flag out, plus a small very special 4th of July one which shows the flag flown during the Revolution surrounded by red apples. It, also, has the word "America" proudly displayed.

    I still recall one morning walk in '04, when, a very liberal lady in our group asked me who I wanted to run for POTUS on the Democratic ticket. When I said Wesley Clark, she looked at me in horror and said "Oh no, not a military man" This from a woman whose husband fought in Korea. Well, if you call running the General's mess for the 8th Army "fighting". She, also, had been a devout McGovern follower without ever admitting his excellent Air Corps record during WWII. Never cede one inch of patriotism to the right.

  • martin on July 04, 2012 1:31 PM:

    They don't love America, they love a myth of an America that never was.

  • Diane rRdriguez on July 04, 2012 1:57 PM:

    There was a totally unexpected moment this a.m. as I was running a few errands. I felt an enormous swell of pride and patriotism listening to NPR. Several hosts took turns reading the Declaration of Independence. I only wish the level of thought, principles of freedom, and such beautiful use of the language were more in eveidence today.

  • Anonymous on July 04, 2012 2:23 PM:

    Talk about myth and misnomer! The Tea Partying types among us would do well to read Beard's Economic Interpretation of the U.S. Constitution. Our founding framers wanted a government that could effectively raise revenue and provide for the welfare of the people. Maybe not in the modern version of things, but to disparage Americans who are in need of being protected from vulture capitalists is to disdain civil society and all it democratically represents.

    Ignorance will always drive the agenda! -Kevo

  • Herostratus on July 04, 2012 2:30 PM:

    "If we were still a nation capable of shame... this Fourth of July would be a day not of celebration but of atonement."
    A) Russell Means (Native American radical leader)
    B) Malcolm X
    C) Abbie Hoffman
    D) Joe Hill
    D) Bill Frezza

    Hahahaha. What a tool.

  • Obi-jonKenobi on July 04, 2012 2:45 PM:

    It never ceases to amaze me when another reich-wing goomba slobbers on about the hand outs with no mention of the fact that the U.S. spending accounts for 42% of the entire world's military spending while the next-closest in spending is China at around 8%. And, somehow England and France manage to stay secure spending around 3%. All of the spending of all of the major industrial countries doesn't equal what the U.S. spends.

    The military-industrial complex has owned and run this country for most of the past 100 years and they can always count on the so-called patriots on the right to mindlessly support the obscene levels of spending they require to keep us "safe".

  • castanea on July 04, 2012 2:49 PM:

    As others above have noted, we should cede no true patriotism to the rightwing.

    Every time a rightwinger opens his/her mouth to rant, our ready reply should be: "Why do Republicans hate American so much?" followed by a nice quote or two from the founding fathers.

  • JustBeingPedantic on July 04, 2012 3:00 PM:

    The unfathomable depth of psychological projection among the far right never ceases to amaze me. Also, I don't think "rent seeker" or, more properly, rentier, means what Bill Frezza thinks it means.

    The fact that a venture capitalist--a group that is second only to hedge fund managers on the list of the rentiers seeking a return to the Gilded Age days of laissez faire corruption--like Bill Frezza has written this sort of tripe to mark Independence Day is a disgrace to his immigrant ancestors. He and his ilk belong in a pile of wretched refuse.

  • Sean Scallon on July 04, 2012 3:29 PM:

    "Little by little, the home of the brave and the land of the free has become a nation of rent-seeking dependents clamoring for their share of state largess."

    The British probably thought the same thing too.

    Ohh...if only Ronald Reagan could see what his children have turned into. He would have never written anything like this, knowing full well some of his supporters were just as rent-seeking as the next man.

  • Carol from CO on July 04, 2012 7:49 PM:

    I can forget the greedy right wing when I listen to Arlo and Pete. Best 4th of July song ever. Thanks for sharing it.

  • Doug on July 04, 2012 7:57 PM:

    I think martin @ 1:31 PM is probably closest to the truth for many right-wingers. The remainder are just spreading manure and hoping enough voters buy it.

  • nanataylor68 on July 04, 2012 11:05 PM:

    As a moderate who stumbled on your page through Memeorandum, I find the implications of this article just as unpatriotic as what this writer was writing about. Unpatriotic conservatives writing about what they believe or this article and the following comments bashing conservatives for writing what they believe. You are both cut of the same cloth and the vitriol makes me nauseated. Good luck

  • JIm H on July 04, 2012 11:20 PM:

    Ed Kilgore is so shockingly partisan that it is difficult to really decipher what is a pretense and what is veritable in his writings (and rantings). I listen to people like him on KCRW (left left left and right) and wonder if they understand how moderates view them.

    Do folks like Ed Kilgore understand that they are just as awful as the extremes on the right side of the political spectrum. Someone, sometime must inform him that everything that is so antithetical to him that he sees in the right, well, that's exactly what he is except from the extremes of the left side of the political spectrum.

    Ed Kilgore is to the left what Rush Limbaugh is to the right. Yes, they both have their virtues (tenacious, hard working etc), but they are also very partisan and very extreme. The rage that emanates from this sort of character is part of what makes political discourse in this nation so very difficult.

  • Rodolfo on July 04, 2012 11:38 PM:

    For years now, I've reacted to lectures on my liberal patriotism with a fuck you challenge to settle it in the parking lot. Not once has a right wing blowhard taken me up. I'm not even that big, but I do mean it. Conservatives like that are usually cowards; the brave ones debate me with respect and enthusiasm, if not facts and reason, and generally, we like each other. Or at least coexist.

  • TheoLib on July 04, 2012 11:40 PM:

    Werewolf posted the Republican version of TLIML. I originally heard a slight variation of it on Prairie Home Companion many years ago, so perhaps it should be attributed to Garrison Keillor.

  • hueyplong on July 05, 2012 8:06 AM:

    "Ed Kilgore is to the left what Rush Limbaugh is to the right."

    Yes, we constantly see Democratic politicians walking back statements after Ed criticizes them for not being sufficiently extreme.

    Man, that's tiresomely idiotic.

  • Teresa on July 05, 2012 8:24 AM:

    Just because they are conservative, white and penis blessed does not, never has and never will mean they are by default the dictators of what is and isn't "American".

    Does the Declaration of Independence say, "All men are created equal, except when for white conservative men, they are awesome gods and know everything by default." No.

    So when I hear or read right wing nutjobs these days yack about "patriotism" it's all childish emotional poppy cock based on western movies, fictional books or cartoons.

  • Werewolf on July 05, 2012 9:26 AM:

    My friends and I were singing that version of TLIML back in the mid-70's, long before any of us heard of "Prairie Home Companion" or Garrrison Keillor.

  • Mark on July 05, 2012 9:31 AM:

    Another torturous liberal attempt to reclaim lost ground on the patriotism field.

    Sorry, libs, but God and country just don't wear well on your self-righteous little bodies.

  • zandru on July 05, 2012 10:12 AM:

    Thanks, Michael W!

    ... for reminding us of "A Modern Colossus". It was great to read it in its entirety once again.

    As for the NPR reporters and their annual read of the Declaration of Independence, it starts out well (really well), but the list of complaints grows tedious. However, this is a good reminder of what was on the minds of the then-British colonists. Real history, as opposed to the Mel-Gibsonesque remakes that so thrill the reactionary right.

  • Another Steve on July 05, 2012 10:58 AM:

    Damn. I've read this over and over and damned if I can even begin to imagine which part this Jlm H person thinks is the Limbaughesque extremism. The only think I can figure out is that he's either the kind of Republican voter who manages to rationalize continuing to vote for candidates of a party who no longer even pretend to believe in democracy by telling himself "the other guys are just as bad" over and over again, or else he's the kind "moderate" who thinks having political views of any kind is in and of itself inherently evil.

  • Andy Olsen on July 05, 2012 2:23 PM:

    Thanks for saying this, Ed. It is very true that the right wing despises our country. Remember this video that encapsulates the hatred of many righties towards America?

    There is another side to this you left unaddressed: they also hate a majority of Americans, themselves. Think about the many groups and segments of America that the right wing has hated and scorned:

    * Liberals and Democrats.
    * Union members, public and private.
    * Environmentalists
    * Women's rights and women's health advocates.
    * Poor people.
    * Non-Christians and anyone who thinks the government should be secular.
    * Peace activists (or even those just opposed to non-stop invasion and occupation of other countries).
    * Racial minorities.
    * Immigrants
    * Anyone from a hometown or state of a Democratic Presidential challenger (Massachusetts, Chicago, etc).

    This list goes on but perhaps you get my point. I'm convinced that once the population of people hated by the right wing is added up, it accounts for a majority of Americans.

    How Democrats are unable to capitalize on this hatred is an enduring mystery.

  • Ben Willard on July 05, 2012 3:25 PM:

    Michael W:

    Who wrote that commie horsesh8t? It looks some Jew did it.

  • Ben Willard on July 05, 2012 3:28 PM:

    Michael W:

    >"The New Colossus"
    Who wrote that commie horsesh8t? It looks some Jew did it.

  • Ted Frier on July 05, 2012 8:48 PM:

    What Ed has described is Richard Hofstadter's "pseudo-conservative.

    In "The Pseudo-conservative Revolt" which appeared in the 1954-55 issue of The Scholar magazine, Hofstadter wrote:

    "Representing no more than a modest fraction of the electorate, it is not so powerful as the liberal dissent of the New Deal era, but it is powerful enough to set the tone of our political life and to establish throughout the country a kind of punitive reaction. The new dissent is certainly not radical — there are hardly any radicals of any sort left — nor is it precisely conservative. Unlike most of the liberal dissent of the past, the new dissent not only has no respect for non-conformism, but is based upon a relentless demand for conformity. It can most accurately be called pseudo-conservative — I borrow the term from the study of The Authoritarian Personality published five years ago by Theodore W. Adorno and his associates — because its exponents, although they believe themselves to be conservatives and usually employ the rhetoric of conservatism, show signs of a serious and restless dissatisfaction with American life, traditions and institutions.

    "They have little in common with the temperate and compromising spirit of true conservatism in the classical sense of the word, and they are far from pleased with the dominant practical conservatism of the moment as it is represented by the Eisenhower Administration. Their political reactions express rather a profound if largely unconscious hatred of our society and its ways — a hatred which one would hesitate to impute to them if one did not have suggestive clinical evidence.

    "From clinical interviews and thematic apperception tests, Adorno and his co-workers found that their pseudo-conservative subjects, although given to a form of political expression that combines a curious mixture of largely conservative with occasional radical notions, succeed in concealing from themselves impulsive tendencies that, if released in action, would be very far from conservative. The pseudo-conservative, Adorno writes, shows “conventionality and authoritarian submissiveness” in his conscious thinking and “violence, anarchic impulses, and chaotic destructiveness in the unconscious sphere. . . . The pseudo conservative is a man who, in the name of upholding traditional American values and institutions and defending them against more or less fictitious dangers, consciously or unconsciously aims at their abolition.”

    In the 1950s, Hofstadter estimated there no more than about 5-10% of the population exhibited such tendencies and were therefore unfit for a democracy because they were unwilling to live in a society where people other than them either were not allowed to exist or, if they did, were marginalized and subordinated. Now they own one of our two major political parties