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The crush that can precede love is lovely, passionate, and mostly blind. Marriages built on it generally don’t last, because reality tarnishes the glow. However, authentic long-term relationships take the blinders off and survive on unconditional love that forgives the missteps. Patriotic love works much the same way.
We learn to love our country when we’re young and patriotism means celebrations and flags and pledges and wonderful parades. We’re told we live in the best country on Earth, and we gladly believe it. We cheer our teams in the Olympics and brag about our culture when we’re abroad. We salute our veterans as though they fought alone. And then some of us mature.
Once we, as citizens, mature, we aren’t afraid to turn an unblinking eye on the truths in our history. We recognize that we, like the peoples of other nationalities, have not been perfect. We haven’t triumphed without help. We’ve made grievous mistakes. Our honor lies in the fact that we’ve occasionally tried to remedy our errors. We’ve plodded clumsily and often indirectly toward a more enlightened civilization.
Raised on a steady diet of fiction—especially on screens, American citizens look for villains and heroes and yearn to have a life that’s as simplistic as film plots. We didn’t mean to help Russia and other countries dismantle our democracy, but many of us did it because we believed the sly propaganda that targeted our fears. Even now, trained by our sports teams, we hate to lose, be disloyal to the team, or appear weak, so we close our eyes when someone suggests we’ve been conned. (James Clapper, the nonpartisan head of U.S. national security from Kennedy through Obama, now concludes without hesitation that evidence demonstrates our election was turned by outside forces.) Mesmerized by propaganda, many chose to believe the promises Donald J. Trump made to the country before he was elected. Many regret their decision. Their president represents interests that don’t include those of the general population.
Some American citizens have abandoned their native land to repatriate elsewhere, walking away from the mess. Many of us have wished we could beam ourselves to a kinder nation. But we love our country still and are determined to stand up for it. Ours isn’t a conflict for which anyone was adequately trained, but it’s our reality. We never expected to watch women, youth, and teachers lead the way to greater equity, but they are. However, they can’t brighten our outlook alone.
Members of a party that calls itself Republican in spite of its disregard for traditional Republican values support our illegitimate government, refusing to be the checks and balances they swore to uphold when they took office. They think the alterations to our national structure they’re instituting will be worth their betrayal of their constituents.
Like a long-term relationship, American citizens can forgive our country for the emotional bruising we’re taking. We’ll pick up the pieces and rebuild a nation that makes us proud and not humiliated. We’ll use our voices, our presence, and our votes to command control of our republic. And, perhaps, we’ll fall in love all over again.