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Weaponized patriotism jeopardizes freedom for future generations

July 4th is a MAGA high holiday and Donald Trump knows this. He knows that in addition to marking the birth of our nation and the foundations of our Constitution, which clearly are of little interest to him, it is so much else: it is a valuable commodity, something to be packaged and sold for a hefty profit to his constituents. It is a quick and easy red, white, and blue daydream for people whose daily lives often feel empty.

It is also Christmas for white Nationalists; the season when their superiority and territorialism and fear of outsiders are more exploitable than ever by someone willing to leverage it. Unfortunately, someone is.

This President understands the power of weaponized patriotism. Saying that “we” love America, while “they” clearly despise it. It is the go-to Trump/GOP trope. He knows that the Stars and Stripes are a cheap intoxicant to those who imagine America to be their sole property, those who feel slighted by a world while enjoying all of its perks, those needing an enemy to rail against and puff out their chests toward and give them purpose.

Trump has learned from the Evangelical Right, how expressions of devotion to America are simultaneously coded war rhetoric: battle cries for white soldiers in the Army of the Lord fighting an ever-encroaching adversary who is breaching their borders and coming for their jobs and their children. You can pretend to say you love this nation, while betraying almost everything central to its beauty: diversity, plurality, equality.

And so the anthems play, the flags wave, the bottle rockets ascend, the M-80’s go off, and Fascism quietly enters in the side door while everyone is distracted by the spectacle. This is the paradox Americans find ourselves in. Our essential liberties have never been more at risk, our national sovereignty never more tenuous, our elemental freedoms never more assailed, and yet the patriotic fervor at the top and in its flag, waving rank-and-file has never been greater.

The ship is going down quickly, but the music is still playing to convince them all we are still the Land of the Free, and they are dancing wildly into the abyss, waving flags.

But this is the place we sing about: Our President publicly attacks the Free Press for speaking freely. Black athletes are castigated for kneeling during supposed anthems to freedom. The “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” are walled off, caged, and sent away without due process. Native Americans have had oil lines driven through their sacred lands. Young black men fear those charged with protecting and serving them. Nazis are winning local elections and creating national policy. Ill people are facing the choice between life-saving care and mortgage payments. Gay teenagers are still the weekly target of brimstone preachers. Muslims here aren’t the beneficiaries of any semblance of religious freedom. Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness aren’t fully accessible to the poor, the differently-abled, the mentally ill, and the sick.

We shouldn’t be singing right now, we should be grieving. We should be holding a somber vigil for the country we could have. We should be mourning over how little of our initial Independence has trickled down to the people in the streets. We should be lamenting how normal rage has become in this supposed “sweet land of Liberty.”

This is why these songs of freedom will ring more hollow than ever this July, because those of us who love this country realize how far we are from the aspirations of the songs and ideals they point to.

We will be grieving, not because this country deserves better than this man—but because right now it does deserve him; because we wish it to be something far greater than his ceremonial dog and pony patriotism, his us and them border walls and Muslim bans, than the phony Christianity he wears when it benefits him.

We see what a farce this all is, to claim on a land our ancestors stole, that any of it belongs to us, that we should be closing borders our forbears crossed without permission, that a man so lacking in goodness should be defining our greatness.

So yes, we’ll be loving our country fiercely this July 4th, by not letting it be what it currently is. We will be working and protesting and loving and building and caring and pushing it to become a place deserving of the songs and the fireworks and the fervor.

When freedom rings for all of us, then we’ll really sing. Until then, we see the joke here—and we don’t think it’s funny.

John Pavlovitz

The original version of this Op Ed was published on johnpavlovitz.com

John Pavlovitz launched an online ministry to help connect people who want community, encouragement, and to grow spiritually. Individuals who want to support his work can sponsor his mission on Patreon, and help the very real pastoral missionary expand its impact in the world.

About The Author

John Pavlovitz

John Pavlovitz is a 20-year ministry veteran trying to figure out how to love people well and to live-out the red letters of Jesus, both online in this global community.

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