Robert Reich
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Don’t let Republicans claim the mantle of patriotism
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Don’t let Republicans claim the mantle of patriotism

Democrats must reclaim patriotism and affirm its true meaning
414

Friends,

Last Tuesday, House Republicans stood for a 43-minute recitation of the United States Constitution. This came just after Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee instituted a requirement to recite the Pledge of Allegiance before each meeting. Further pledges, flag salutes, and Constitution recitations are planned.

Why are Democrats allowing Republicans to blanket themselves with conspicuous displays of patriotism, especially when the GOP has become the party of traitorousness and treachery?

Recall that eight Republican senators and 139 Republican representatives objected to the certification of electors in the 2020 election, based on no evidence. Many continue to deny the outcome of that election. Several are still repeating Trump’s Big Lie that the election was stolen from him.

Last June, Rep. Liz Cheney charged members of her own party who continued to support Trump’s Big Lie with “defending the indefensible,” warning that “there will come a day when President Trump is gone, but your dishonor will remain.”

Well, Trump is now almost gone. His nascent presidential campaign is sputtering. But instead of ostracizing them, Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has given those who defended Trump plum seats on congressional committees.

Democrats should repeatedly speak out against these Republican traitors.

Democrats should also criticize Republican lawmakers who are equating patriotism with white Christian nationalism.

In a recent speech, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis — whose popularity in today’s GOP rivals that of Trump — called on Americans to “put on the full armor of God. Stand firm against the left’s schemes.” DeSantis has prohibited the teaching of Black history, prevented teachers from discussing gender identity, and made it easy for parents to remove books from schools. He is now asking state universities for the numbers and ages of students who have sought or received sex-reassignment surgery and hormone prescriptions.

Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado says she is “tired of this separation of church and state junk” and “the church is supposed to direct the government.” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene says, “we need to be the party of nationalism and I’m a Christian, and I say it proudly, we should be Christian nationalists.”

Democrats should make clear that Christian nationalism is the opposite of patriotism. America’s constitutional and moral mission has been to separate politics from religion — providing equal rights to Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Mormon, atheist, and agnostic. Real patriots don’t fuel racist, religious, gender, or ethnic divisions. To the contrary, patriots seek to confirm and strengthen and celebrate the “we” in “we the people of the United States.”

Nor do patriots ban books or prevent teaching about the sins of our past.

Democrats must also remind the nation that patriotism requires taking a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going — sacrificing for the common good. Paying taxes in full rather than lobbying for lower taxes or seeking tax loopholes or squirreling away money abroad. Paying America’s debts rather than using the threat of national default to extract political concessions from the other party.

Above all, Democrats should be saying that patriotism involves strengthening our democracy — defending the right to vote and ensuring more Americans are heard rather than claiming without evidence that millions of people voted fraudulently. True patriots don’t put loyalty to their political party above their love of America. True patriots don’t support an attempted coup.

Patriotism means refraining from financial contributions that corrupt our politics. Blowing the whistle on abuses of power even at the risk of losing one’s job. Volunteering time and energy to improving the community and country.

And Democrats need to reaffirm that when serving in public office, patriots do not use their office to increase their wealth. When serving as judges, they recuse themselves from cases where they may appear to have a conflict of interest. When serving on the Supreme Court, they don’t disregard precedent to impose their own ideology.

In sharp contrast to the superficial demonstrations of patriotism now being utilized by the Republican Party, Democrats must remind Americans that one of the major responsibilities of lawmakers and other public servants is to maintain and build public trust in the offices and institutions they occupy.  

Now is the time for Democrats to reclaim patriotism and affirm its true meaning.

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