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In general, I’ve promised myself to not amplify the words of the disgraced, twice-impeached conman and criminal who occupied our White House. We all know he has continued to perpetuate the Big Lie of election fraud, lie about the deadly nature of the January 6 insurrection, and continue to find new ways to accelerate the corrosion and ultimate demise of our democracy. Around the country and in Washington, DC, he can count on plenty of accomplices who share his grievous mission.
But an easily missed—and, in the scheme of things, minor—moment at a Trump rally in Arizona this weekend caught my attention because it vividly illustrates how he’s poisoned and degraded our public sphere and further eroded the limited number of ways that Americans previously came together with a common voice.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve enjoyed the distraction of the first days of the Tokyo Olympics, even amid the controversies around holding this event during the pandemic. I confess that I’m an easy mark for well-told tales of hard-working humans who overcome adversity to achieve their dreams. Yes, I root for Americans, but I also root for most any underdog who, despite long odds, ends victorious. The early and unexpected gold medal win of Tunisian swimmer Ahmed Hafnaoui in the 400-meter freestyle race is one such case.
But on Saturday, at his “Rally to Protect our Elections,” the sweaty former guy shared his sick pleasure over the US women soccer team’s unexpected loss to Sweden in their first match. He blamed it on “wokeism,” which he told his excited crowd makes you “warped” and “demented.” And more, it “makes you lose, ruins your mind, and ruins you as a person.” Noting that the US team—led by Trump critic and soccer star Megan Rapinoe—lost that game 3-0, his crowd cheered.
None of this twisted talk was surprising, nor was the response, exactly. But it reminded me how, in an earlier time, in a better world, where Americans supported each other and did not reduce everything to political warfare, we had a chance to put aside our differences every so often and cheer together.
I’ve never believed in the kind of mindless, flag-waving patriotism that refuses to make room for reasonable criticism, demands a belligerent “we are the greatest” attitude, exploits the mindset to justify unnecessary military inventions and includes thinly veiled or open hostility toward other nations. I stand by the words of President Theodore Roosevelt in a 1918 article he wrote entitled “Lincoln and Free Speech.”
“Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the President or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country.”
In these coming years, I don’t have much hope for a unified America, particularly as we see Republican leadership bent on taking power by any means necessary, no matter how much it requires degrading the truth and working to bring America’s democratic project to its conclusion (Exhibit A: 1/6 Capitol attack. Exhibit B: 2020 election outcome). In these broken times, it’s hard to hold fast to the belief that we are all Americans and what combines us is stronger than what divides us.
But I do hope that we’ll all live long enough to reach the day when the loss of an American team in the Olympics is not reason for Republicans to celebrate.
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