Today is Independence Day. As much as it’s a day for grilling, drinking, and fireworks, it’s also a day for solemn tributes to the ideals of our Founding Fathers — check out the back of today’s New York Times — and to the soldiers who risk their lives for them. Today tops even Memorial Day in the patriotic fervor it elicits, so inevitably some corners of our society are going to turn into a competition over who can wrap himself in the biggest American flag. Why, though, do we place such a premium on being — and, more importantly, seeming — patriotic?
If we are going to have a discussion of whether or not it’s “cool” to be patriotic, we have to define what that word actually means. It is not buying an AR-15 and turning the Mexican border into a shooting range. It is not heeding Toby Keith’s advice and checking for that “Made in America” stamp, or riding around in a gigantic Chevy Silverado. Neither is it ironically blasting Bruce Springsteen. It is not excluding those who do not look, sound, or worship like us. And it certainly is not drinking beer that comes out of an American flag can.
These actions’ lowest common denominator is the consumerist bent behind them. We have turned the commodification of patriotism into an art form. Indeed, as evidenced by the advertisement above, “‘Murica Capitalism” is one of our nation’s more powerful market forces. We are all guilty of it participating in it, not only because it’s impossible to escape, but also because it’s so easy to sustain the status quo. When you don’t rock the boat — socially, politically, or otherwise — it does not take much effort to go to bed knowing (or feeling like) you have done something “patriotic.”
But there is no glory in this faux-patriotism, because there is nothing “cool” about doing something easy. The real patriots — the ones who “love his or her country” — are the ones who request no recognition from their peers. They do not consume patriotism; they live it.
That is what makes true patriotism all the more cool. It’s a hard thing to find, because to do so authentically means to cut through the commercialized swill that you will face this holiday. Dancing on Osama Bin Laden’s grave doesn’t quite cut it, but enlisting isn’t the only way to prove you’re a true patriot. Those who commit those sincere, anonymous acts of kindness and service that you read about make the cut as well. “‘Murica Capitalism” gives patriotism a bad name, and it is far too common on July 4th, but patriotism in its purest form will never go out of style.