The word “patriot” holds a special place in the heart of America, and the attachment to that word, in particular, runs deep into the roots of the United States’ history to its founding. While the word has taken on a meaning of national pride and attachment to one’s homeland, the American usage of the term brings with it a certain kind of pride that goes back to the American revolution. For it was the Patriots who ultimately loved their homeland, who stood for local and (in most cases) limited self-government, and grew to hate the established and increasingly obnoxious and interventionist Imperial British regime.
In contrast, modern “conservatives” and right wingers also lay a claim to the word “patriot,” and on the surface, it seems like the shoe fits. After all, it is the loud and proud American right that stands up for such time-honored American traditions like standing for the national anthem, keeping “under god” in the pledge of allegiance, proudly displaying their “thin blue line” bumper stickers (sometimes ironically and paradoxically next to the Gadsden flag), and honoring the veterans of America’s wars abroad. It’s nearly easier to start a “USA! The USA!” chant at a sporting event than a wave. After all, since July 4th is a revered holiday, surely there couldn’t possibly be a contradiction in rhetoric and reality?
Yet upon closer examination, it seems the rank-and-file right-wing is rather picky and choosy about exactly what American patriotism means. They proudly give lip-service and reverence to the founding of the country, to the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, but their actions speak otherwise. Modern conservatism seems to have severed its relation to the Patriotism of America’s birth and instead has embraced a nationalist, collectivist strain of statist pride dating back to the Progressive Era and bolstered by two “victories” in the World Wars. Today, the right wing with their almost religious and spiritual devotion to support for military servicemen, will proclaim their devotion to swift justice and an active foreign policy to fight for “freedom” abroad, to topple dictators, and to defend our vital allies and friends around the world from boogeymen that never seem to go away.
The parallels are eerily similar to the glory days of the British Empire, where British dominance on the field of battle or in the sporting arena was a testament to its greatness, as if the random Midwestern American conservative had any hand at all in Michael Phelp’s amazing Olympic achievements. Enemies of America’s foreign policy today are dehumanized right-winging news outlets, Assad and Gaddafi were brutal dictators committing human rights violations, and Palestinians are bloodthirsty monsters who launch rockets unprovoked into poor, defenseless Israel. The evangelical conservative (who has far more in common with Puritan Progressives than the Patriotic Classical Liberals of Jefferson’s era) faithfully does not question the American-Israeli alliance. They’re all alone in the region, after all, and if there’s anything apple-pie Americans love, it’s an underdog story. Unfortunately, the backing of the awesome military might conservatives love to flaunt about (ex: the idea of singlehandedly saving Europe during WWII) of the United States hardly makes Israel an underdog in any sense of the word, much less from the right’s own perspective. Nevertheless! Any good American supports the noble colonies (correction: allies) around the globe.
The military industrial complex easily harvests the military devotion of the right. It openly boasts in their television recruitment ads of the number of ships they have deployed globally, and luring America’s youth into the servitude of the political class by offering numerous “opportunities” anywhere in the world. The expansive and intimidating reach of the American empire exerts far more influence today than the British ever did. To the new recruits and their families, they are performing an honorable service defending American freedom, which somehow waddled its way halfway around the world, and now must be retrieved by refueling Saudi jets that coldly and often bomb civilians in Yemen in their own local crusades. Conservatives are proud of spreading the American doctrine and making the world safe for democracy in a way that would put a smile on accomplished Democrat Woodrow Wilson’s face. It doesn’t matter to them that now their boys and girls in uniform have been used to train the same bin-Ladenite jihadis that shot at (and in some regions, are still shooting at) their brothers a decade previously. What matters is “getting the bad guys,” and defending America’s colonies from whichever dictator or radical guerilla organization is a foe today, and forgotten ally yesterday. What matters is a return to World War dominance, victory for victory’s sake, and civilizing a barbaric foreign foe. Not even pretending to abide by “conservative” principles of fiscal responsibility is enough to reign in the leviathan and gluttonous size of the supposedly “dismantled” Pentagon (that still seems to procure massive budgets despite its misplacement of $6.5 trillion).
Combined with the right’s reverence for the international might of the American state is a desire to “civilize” his or her own neighbors. Whether it be a prohibition of drugs (mother knows best, after all), or a desire to teach the conservative’s backwards and ignorant countrymen that the rule of law must be followed, and that our police must always be respected, we must all move into a civilized age of practices approved by their own code of ethics. After all, the police are just trying to protect and serve the living daylights out of you, because smoking pot might be a gateway drug. The statutory law, the collectivist will divinely inspired as “one nation under God,” has become the new ten commandments. Conservatives no longer wish to conserve such long-dead traditions of individual liberty and federalism, they wish to uphold the tradition of an all-powerful state to actively assert itself on the side of “good.” The propaganda of the lurking and seemingly imminent threat of religious terrorism is enough for conservatives to give up their fourth amendment rights to a warrant and thank the omnipotent NSA for keeping them safe through their civilian surveillance program that has stopped a whopping zero terrorist attacks. The Patriot Act, as it was so Orwellian named, has become the new Quartering Act with the Central Government able to enter anyone’s home on a whim of presumed guilt by association. After all, if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear, correct?
Modern conservatives have shown not a love for country, a love and respect for the liberties and freedoms of their neighbors and people who live alongside them, but they have shown a love for the state and the American empire. They’ve shown a love for activist government, for taxation above and beyond what their supposed heroes dumped tea into a harbor for. They’ve welcomed the red-coats into their homes through warrantless searches, and they worship the red, white, and blue calf that the Bible warned them against. Through their action, they’ve shown time and again that rather than freedom and liberty, they love empire, the divine right of ‘Murica, and a heavily armed police state with a nanny complex. They have their own form of PC, and one must not dare question friendship with Israel or point out the futility and moral atrocity of America’s own military interventions. Yet how ridiculous it would have been for Benjamin Franklin to lecture Patrick Henry to keep to himself his disdain for the British troops- after all, some of them died fighting during the French-Indian war, and criticism is disrespectful. It’s time for the American right to dump the word “patriot.” Freedom, liberty, and a love for their fellow countrymen now plays second fiddle, if in the orchestra at all. They’ve shown time and again that they’re nothing less than invasive government-loving, expensive (in terms of lives and money) empire building, collectivist Tories.