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April 15, 2014 9:43 AM Tax Day and Patriotism

By Ed Kilgore

I suppose if you’ve already received a tax refund or know you’ll be receiving one, Tax Day isn’t a particularly unpleasant day, and if you’ve already filed your federal and state returns, it’s not an especially noteworthy moment on the calendar. But as Jonathan Cohn notes today in his fine column on taxes, our federal income taxes are not all that transparently aligned with benefits we receive, specifically or as citizens. And even though they are not always true, reports or rumors of rampant inefficiency in government tend to promote resentment among taxpayers. Almost all of us can identify some government activity we would change or terminate if we were given that power.

But relatively few of us claim that power, and those who do so without warrant of law are clearly risking a stint in the hoosegow, along with the poor opinion of our fellow-citizens, above whom we are arrogating ourselves. Call it “individualism” or “libertarianism” or whatever you want, but those who declare themselves a Republic of One and raise their own flags are in a very literal sense being unpatriotic.

That’s why I’m alarmed by the support in many conservative precincts for the Nevada scofflaws who have been exploiting public lands for private purposes and refuse to pay for the privilege because they choose not to “recognize” the authority of the United States. Totally aside from the double standards involved in expecting kid-glove treatment of one set of lawbreakers as opposed to poorer and perhaps darker criminal suspects, fans of the Bundys are encouraging those who claim a right to wage armed revolutionary war towards their obligations as Americans. It makes me really crazy when such people are described as “superpatriots.” Nothing could be more contrary to the truth.

Painful as Tax Day might be, and however unhappy we may be with this or that policy or practice of the federal government, this is indeed our government, and there’s no “country” beyond its jurisdiction to which we may pledge allegiance. So today’s a day for flag-waving, not just tax-paying, and one for rededicating ourselves to engagement in the civic and political processes, not seceding to some imaginary Republic of our own devising.

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.

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