An Informed Patriotism

Official Portrait of President Reagan 1981“Finally, there is a great tradition of warnings in Presidential farewells, and I’ve got one that’s been on my mind for some time. But oddly enough, it starts with one of the things I’m proudest of in the past 8 years: the resur- gence of national pride that I called the new patriotism. This national feeling is good, but it won’t count for much, and it won’t last unless it’s grounded in thought- fulness and knowledge.

An informed patriotism is what we want. And are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world? Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family, you got them from the neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed, you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.

…Our spirit is back, but we haven’t reinstitutionalized it. We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom–freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile; it needs [protection].

So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important…You know, 4 years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach. Her name was Lisa Zanatta Henn, and she said, “We will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.” Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit. Let’s start with some basics: more attention to American history and a greater emphasis on civic ritual.

“And let me offer lesson number one about America: All great change in America begins at the dinner table. So, tomorrow night in the kitchen, I hope the talking begins. And children, if your parents haven’t been teaching you what it means to be an American, let ’em know and nail ’em on it. That would be a very American thing to do.”

These words from Reagan’s farewell speech in 1988 were incredibly prescient. Did those 1984 bumper stickers proclaiming “President Reagan Bringing America Back” only proclaim a feel-good national wave of emotion? —a new sense of patriotism isn’t necessarily the same as an informed patriotism. President Reagan recognized that the country had gotten her spirit back, but had yet to reinstitutionalize it.

For those of you like me who have wondered how a nation that elected Reagan in the 1980’s could elect Obama only two decades later, I think part of the answer is here in Reagan’s analysis; the country failed to reinstitutionalize her spirit. We’ve see some resurgence and interest in an informed patriotism because of the growth of the homeschool movement, the new online media, the Tea Party movement, and those citizens who have remained diligent. These groups have been a firewall for the country. The progressive media, however, remains in firm control over much of the flow of information—deciding what news to report, what news to ignore, and what spin to give to the news; and much of the transmission of information from one generation to the next remains under the firm control of progressive educators. So we have seen a growing eradication of the American memory and the consequent erosion of her spirit.

President Reagan suggested going back to the basics: giving more attention to American history and emphasizing civic ritual. By interweaving my posts with American history I want to enable us to know more of why we are a nation, and the importance of being responsible citizens. Many of my posts are centered on issues because current events have recurring themes, and thinking through why certain priorities and choices are important to our well-being as individuals and as a country, discussing what can be done to strengthen them, and learning to recognize and counter the gambits of the Left will produce in us an informed patriotism. In the sidebar I’ll continue to build a list of resources from the past and the present. In the blue strip at the top of the site there will be links to pages containing summaries of linked posts and issues.

These are difficult times, but let us resolve to stand rather than fall into cynicism or despair. Two featured posts are linked in the sidebar, “the acts and choices of ordinary people” and The American Crisis: November 2012, for encouragement and as a reminder of the endurance of other Americans during their own hard times. We know the end to their story, and so we easily overlook the reality of their suffering. David Hackett Fisher writes:

“On New Year’s Day in 1777, Robert Morris sent George Washington a letter that rings strangely in a modern ear. “The year 1776 is over,” Morris wrote. “I am heartily glad of it and hope you nor America will ever be plagued with such another.” Washington shared that feeling, which was very far from our own. We celebrate 1776 as the most glorious year in American history. They remembered it as an agony, especially the “dark days” of autumn.”

Let us ground ourselves in thoughtfulness and knowledge, and persevere in the dark days of our own autumn. Those who endured 1776 left a legacy to us—by God’s grace may we endure, so that we in turn may leave a legacy for future generations.
President Reagan’s Farewell Speech,
David Hackett Fischer, Washington’s Crossing (Oxford University Press, New York) 363.

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