Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Loyalty and dissent

By Michael J.W. Stickings

In much of the world, today is May Day -- or Labour Day, or International Workers' Day.

In the U.S., which doesn't much go in for socialism, it's Loyalty Day.

Yes, Loyalty Day. (It used to be Americanization Day, which sounds even worse.) And Bush proclaimed it so.

To be fair, some of Bush's platitudinous proclamation was fine: "We believe deeply in freedom and self-government..." That Bush is requesting loyalty at a time when America, under his "leadership," is embroiled in a disastrous foreign war -- and that he is requesting it on the fourth anniversary of his "Mission Accomplished" speech -- is not fine. Not at all.

In fact, it's all quite sickening. (Bob Geiger explains.)

And, I must say, I find the whole idea of state-ordered (or even state-suggested) loyalty distressingly unpleasant. It's all rather -- how shall I put it? -- Khmer Rougish.

After all, what does it mean to be loyal?

Bush referred to "reaffirming our allegiance to our Nation," but even that is vague and collectivist. So is just about flying the flag? Not for Bush, who connects it to the military. So is it about "the patriotic service of the men and women who wear our Nation's uniform with honor and decency". To a point, but is it also about supporting what those men and women are doing in uniform? Beyond that, is it about supporting those who sent those men and women off to war? Is it about supporting the state, or the leader?

Which is my point -- where does loyalty stop and 1984-ish love for Big Brother begin? It seems to me that Bush and many of those on his side of the political divide demand the sort of allegiance that pushes genuine patriotism into the dangerous gray area between conscious loyalty and unconscious devotion.

When it's beaten into you, even in speech, you may have no choice but to acquiesce, to love that which has destroyed you.

Sameness is celebrated, difference is abhorred. If you're not with us, you're against us.

Which is profoundly un-American, I would contend, unless this is precisely what America, under Bush, has become.

Born in revolution, an ongoing experiment, a fusion of ancient and modern thought, a nation of noble ideals sustained by liberal and progressive ideas, America was never meant to be something to which one would be unconsciously devoted.

So on this Loyalty Day, with the country at war, with the Constitution under threat, with the noble ideals of the Declaration of Independence receding ever further into oblivion, I say this:

Be an American. Dissent.

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