If today’s letters to the editor and Washington Post columnist Charles Lane’s essay prove anything, it’s that different folks employ different gauges to determine whether one is properly patriotic or genuinely swells with American pride. Some have forcefully suggested patriotism and good citizenship mean supporting President Trump in all things Trumpian, including his recent Fourth of July salute to the military. Others say it’s impossible to feel national pride when Trump policies leave brown-skinned migrant women and children in conditions so deplorable it defies any claim ours is a Christian nation — and that a certain all-American resistance is not only necessary but entirely patriotic. Such volatile differences will dog us through the long dog days of summer and well into the pivotal 2020 campaign.
Our friends at Pew Research Center now invigorate this debate via a survey on what makes a good citizen: 74% said voting stamps one as a model citizen. (Typically dreadful voter turnout in Texas suggests many of us, while citizens, aren’t very good ones.) And 71% said paying all your taxes most assuredly qualifies you as a good citizen. (No word if you lose points for whining about it, an all-American pastime.) And 69% suggest obeying laws is a mark of citizenship (even as questions rage about whether our political leaders should be above the law’s reach). Finally, 61% say jury duty makes you a swell citizen — a revealing development given the number of local citizens we’ve seen shirk jury duty, irritating judges.
Republicans and Democrats agree most of the above constitute good and worthy citizens. They disagree sharply elsewhere: Republicans and GOP-leaning independents are more than twice as likely as Democrats and Democratic leaners to insist that knowing the Pledge of Allegiance is important to what it means to be a good citizen (71% vs. 34%; all might be as well off knowing intimately the hard-earned Bill of Rights). Republicans were also more likely than Democrats to say the same of displaying Old Glory (50% vs. 25%).
The Pew Research Center folks say one big area of dispute involves the civic obligation to protest when you believe your government is in the wrong: 52% of Democrats surveyed said this was “very important,” compared with about a third of Republicans (35%) — something you might expect when Republicans control the White House, Senate and Supreme Court. (We should note most political analysts suggest Democrats would be better off registering people to vote than protesting ad nauseam. Protests lose impact as they become more frequent.)
At a time when too many brand those with whom they disagree as insufficiently patriotic, let’s remember no one likes being branded unpatriotic anymore than he or she likes being labeled a fascist or a socialist. Let’s agree that all who vote regularly (and responsibly), pay their taxes (which late Waco philanthropist Bernard Rapoport regarded as an act of supreme patriotism), obey all laws (even when our politicians don’t) and don’t weasel out of jury duty qualify as upstanding citizens, worthy of at least some respect in politically heated times. And then let’s move smartly on to elevate the quality of debate, citizen to cherished citizen.