Republicans and the Australian billionaires who own and run Fox “News” have a mighty strange idea of what it means to love and respect one’s country. The network has spent years hosting White Republicans claiming “patriotism” to trash-talk Black athletes protesting racism in America, and they are at it again.

For example, Representative Dan Crenshaw told Fox viewers about Black Olympian Gwen Berry, who is now heading to the Tokyo Olympics and turned to the side during the National Anthem: “We don’t need any more activist athletes. She should be removed from the team. … That should be the bare minimum requirement, is that you believe in the country representing.”

And it has spread beyond Fox, as is so often the case. Meghan McCain weighed in on The View: “[I]t is not appropriate or patriotic to go to a foreign country where you’re supposed to be representing America and act like its just about you.”

But Berry has made it clear it was not about her; it was about the way this country has treated — and continues to treat — Black people.

“I never said that I hated the country,” Berry told the Black News Channel (a CNN affiliate), “never said that. All I said was I respect my people enough to not stand or acknowledge something that disrespects them.”

So, what disrespected Black people at the moment Berry was protesting? And what is true patriotism?

First, about the National Anthem Berry turned away from. It was written by Maryland slave-owner Francis Scott Key to celebrate the American victory in the War of 1812 over the British “Corps of Colonial Marines,” who were slaughtered by U.S. forces at the Battle of Ft. McHenry in September of 1814.

And who were the British Corps of Colonial Marines? Five months earlier, in April of 1814, British Captain James Ross promised freedom and relocation in Barbados or England to any enslaved Africans who could escape American plantations and would volunteer to fight in the War of 1812 for the British.

Three hundred enslaved people “escaped their masters’ plantations on the Chesapeake [Maryland] Tidewater” and they became the all-Black Corps of Colonial Marines.

Thus, slaveholder Francis Scott Key wrote the third stanza of the National Anthem to celebrate the slaughter of his fellow Marylander’s runaway slaves at the hands of the all-white American troops:

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

This is part of our history that Gwen Berry clearly knows, as do many Black Americans; the very same history of race in this country that Republicans in multiple states are today passing laws to ban our children from learning.

As she said, “If you know your history, you know the full song of the national anthem. The third paragraph speaks to slaves in America — our blood being slain all over the floor. It’s disrespectful and it does not speak for Black Americans.”

Which brings us to the second question Berry’s gesture raised: What sort of behavior is patriotic?

  • Is it turning your back on a racist Anthem, or is it beating Capitol Police with American flagpoles and other weapons so severely over 100 were hospitalized, one died, one lost an eye, another lost fingers, and many are permanently disabled…all while trying to overturn a free and fair election by force?
  • Is it raising taxes back to normal on morbidly rich Americans to rebuild our country after 40 years or neglect, or is it maintaining a tax system so corrupted since Reagan’s presidency that most parasitic billionaires effectively pay less than 3 percent in federal income taxes while major corporations pay nothing?
  • Is it providing high-quality public education and free or low-cost college and trade school (and eliminating existing student debt), or is it passing laws supporting 400% interest payday loans and bailing out corrupt banksters?
  • Is it maintaining an unemployment system that catches working people when capitalism goes through its periodic and predictable cycles of failure, or is it subsidizing airlines and other monopolistic industries with billions during those same cycles?
  • Is it feeding hungry Americans with food-stamps and programs for low-income pregnant women, or is it spending millions and decades to take away women’s right to choose to use birth control or get an abortion?
  • Is it making sure Americans who’ve worked their entire lives have a well-funded Social Security system, or is it working tirelessly to gut the Social Security Administration so Wall Street can take it over?
  • Is it helping working people have “democracy in the workplace” — union representation — or is it killing off the unionized Post Office so it can be sold to union-hating FedEx (which has recently taken over the USPS’s international airmail service)?
  • Is it making it easy for all eligible American citizens to vote, or is it passing laws to make it harder to vote and trying to recruit tens of thousands of “poll watchers” from among the ranks of white supremacist militias?
  • Is it solving our homeless problem by making affordable residences available to all Americans (like Finland just did), or is it demonizing and harassing people driven to sleep in the streets by brutal, unregulated capitalism or mental illness?
  • Is it providing healthcare to all Americans as a right, or is it privatizing Medicare through the so-called “Medicare Advantage” scam, doing your best to destroy Obamacare, and blocking even half-measures like a public option?
  • Is it ensuring our water and air are clean and pure, or is it passing laws to make a felony of taking photographs of reporting on conditions in heavily polluting industries like Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs).
  • Is it working to green American infrastructure and transportation, or is it giving a $600 billion a year subsidy to the same fossil fuel industry that has spent 50 years or more lying to us about the relationship between their business and global warming?
  • Is it supporting the equality of women and LGBTQ Americans, or is it spreading hate, fear and division as a political strategy to boost media profits and win elections?
  • Is it banning weapons of war from our streets and passing basic gun-safety laws like most developed nations have, or is it promoting “open carry” so any grinning idiot who wants to can strut around with an AR15 strapped across his chest like a giant prosthetic penis?
  • Is it enforcing anti-monopoly laws to save small family businesses and local newspapers and other media, or is it continuing to force Americans families to pay an average $5000 more per year than people in any other developed country for everything from cellphone service to broadband to travel and medicine?
  • Is it working for racial reconciliation and reparation after 400 years of genocide, slavery and legal apartheid against Native American, Black and Hispanic Americans, or is it fighting to preserve statues and holidays that memorialize a group of slave-owning traitors whose attempt to end the American experiment led to 600,000 deaths in the Civil War?
  • Speaking of 600,000 deaths, is it doing worse than nothing about a pandemic sweeping our nation — in fact, using the bully pulpit of the presidency and media like Fox to promote bizarre theories about masks and chloroquine that made it worse — or is it working to get all Americans vaccinated and developing a nation system of vaccination certification so we can travel abroad or safely enjoy restaurants, sporting events and cruises?

True patriots love their country and their fellow citizens of all races and genders, and work to make their nation better (even if that may mean revising a national song). Demagogues, rightwing billionaires and their on-camera shills just try to pit us against each other and tear our republic apart while enriching themselves.

Mеlаny Rоchеstеr

© Thom Hartmann, used with permission. Originally published on The Hartmann Report as What Is True American Patriotism?

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