Mona Charen
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Democrats should reclaim patriotism

In 1984, at the Republican National Convention in Dallas, a lifelong Democrat stood up to denounce her former party. Jeane Kirkpatrick, who had switched parties to serve as Reagan’s U.N. ambassador, lambasted her former party for always “blaming America first.”

Today, it is the Republican Party that — despite its MAGA slogan — is trafficking in dark, anti-American ideas and imagery. The party that claims to put “America first” is led by a man who describes the nation as “failing” or “corrupt” a hundred times for every one mention of an American virtue. 

Our cities, according to Trump, are crippled by “bloodshed, chaos and violent crime.” Our courts are corrupt. Our press is the “enemy of the people.” Immigrants are “poisoning the blood of our nation” while committing countless murders and rapes. Our military is “woke.” Meanwhile, those who gave the last full measure of devotion are “suckers” and “losers.” We are a “failing nation” whose free elections are actually rigged by a stealthy and unaccountable “deep state.” Far from a global leader, America is a “laughing stock” around the world.

The Republican Party has traded patriotism and uplift for an apocalyptic cult. This presents Democrats with an opportunity — if they can seize it.

Most people are patriots. In June 2023, 67% of Americans said they were extremely or very proud of their country. If you add those who say they are “moderately” proud to be American to those who are extremely or very proud, you arrive at 89% of the adult population.

For Democrats to scoop up the banner of patriotism will require rejecting the approach of progressives. I’m a devoted listener to NPR, and they do excellent work. But their progressive bias results in a seemingly endless litany of American sins and shortcomings past and present. Some self-criticism is a sign of maturity. Too much can be demoralizing.

Most Democrats are not progressives though, and they have a golden opportunity to uphold true patriotism in contrast to the nativist nationalism now proclaimed by the Republicans.

What is there to love about America?

Let’s begin with the Declaration of Independence. Though written by a slave owner, its stirring words inspired not just colonists along the Atlantic coast of the new world, but all of humanity.

The Constitution enshrined a republican form of government, checks and balances, and rights like freedom of speech and worship, the right to trial by jury, and the right to be secure in your home from government intrusion that were practically unheard of in the 18th century and remain too rare today. And where those rights are honored, it is often due to the example and influence of the United States.

Seventy-four percent of Americans believe that, on the whole, America has been a force for good in the world. I’m with them.

There are countless examples of American benevolence to those in need, but one that has disappeared from our national consciousness is the story of American relief of Europe after World War I. Had he never had the misfortune to be president when the Great Depression hit, Herbert Hoover would be remembered as one of the most consequential humanitarians in history. When tens of millions in Europe faced starvation, Hoover was tapped to lead the American Relief Administration and saved tens of millions from starvation.

The United States offered similar humanitarian relief after World War II. After bitter warfare, the United States administered Japan without vengeance or plunder and put that nation on the road to democracy and prosperity.

In recent years, the United States has underwritten peace between Egypt and Israel, provided the lion’s share of funding for the U.N.’s humanitarian missions and undertaken to save Africans from the scourge of AIDS with the PEPFAR program.

On the home front, with all of our flaws, the United States has provided a haven for generations of immigrants from war-torn, despotic or impoverished nations. Among them were my grandparents.

This nation has been guilty of slavery, ethnic cleansing (of Native Americans), discrimination, religious bigotry, and always and everywhere racism. But this is also the nation that passed the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Fair Housing Act and many more. It is the nation that, imperfectly but steadily, implemented Brown v. Board of Education.

The American genius for innovation gave the world many of the most significant inventions of the past two centuries. Americans invented the telephone (Alexander Graham Bell was an immigrant to the United States), the lightbulb, anesthesia, the airplane, the elevator, the skyscraper, the polio vaccine, air conditioning, the cellphone, the internet, nuclear power, GPS (with key work by an African American woman from rural Virginia), and mRNA vaccines. Americans landed on the moon and established the first national parks.

America’s capacity to absorb and blend cultures from around the world led to the flourishing of music and art. Tap dancing originated here, along with jazz, the blues, movies, hip hop and, of course, blue jeans.

The MAGA vision of a woke, corrupt, crime-infested hellscape is not patriotism but its opposite. Speaking up for the goodness of America is just — and may also be politically potent.

Mona Charen is policy editor of The Bulwark and host of the “Beg to Differ” podcast. Her new book, “Hard Right: The GOP’s Drift Toward Extremism,” is available now.

Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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