America the Beautiful

I originally published this on Washington Hotlist. On this Fourth of July, I republish it here. Happy Birthday, America.

Oh beautiful, for spacious skies, for amber waves of grain. For purple mountains majesty above the fruited plain. America, America God shed His grace on thee. And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea.

In 1893, a young teacher by the name of Katharine Lee Bates, scribbled these words into a notebook after ascending Pike’s Peak and witnessing the vast expanse of America in front of her. She never knew that the words she wrote would eventually be sang in churches, public forums and eventually during the 7th inning of many baseball games in the United States.

She had no clue that the words, “America the Beautiful” would resonate with so many people. She knew that they resonated with herself.

According to the story (reprinted here with no known attribution to the original article), after tweaking and rewriting some sections, the song would be reprinted in the Boston Evening Transcript where it was mostly well received, yet she was criticized for using the word “Beautiful”.

Oh, beautiful.

There’s a lot of talk these days about patriotism. George Bush made the point famous by using rhetoric like, “You’re either with us, or you’re for our enemies” and calling patriotism into question. Congress went along with the war rhetoric under the guise of patriotism.

It became an unofficial requirement for members of the media to display American flag lapel pins. An exotic dance of expectations, intentions, and cooperations ensued where patriotism was challenged.

They don’t understand patriotism.

Patriotism is a love of country. Patriotism is not an act demonstrating a love of country. Patriotism is respect and honor. Patriotism is not a shallow public display of affection. Patriotism is the ability to stand back and say, “Wow, I’m blessed to be an American”. Patriotism is not “America and no one else.” Patriotism is recognizing that, at the end of the day, despite disagreement we can all stand shoulder to shoulder in defense of the freedom to disagree.

America, the Beautiful.

Much has been talked about Barack Obama’s speech on patriotism the other day. I confess, I haven’t seen it yet.The old view of patriotism likes to hammer him because he doesn’t wear a lapel pin. He’s not Muslim, but if he was that’s okay. He’s got a middle name that brings back some memories, yet… he is patriotic as far as I can tell.

He loves his country. He will defend the right to disagreement. His core is baked into a tremendous love for this country, his country, OUR country.

The fact that a black man, today, can run for President is a beautiful thing.

America the Beautiful.

I like what my friend, Erin, has to say about this.

I have never considered myself a patriot.

I have never served in the armed forces. I have never served as a lawmaker, or heck, even a volunteer.

I thought patriots died for America, they lost their homes or sacrificed their sons. I thought they did what was asked when the United States was in need and always stood by her side.

Those people are why I never once considered myself even close to a “œpatriot.” Sure I have a loyalty to my country, but I also question her. While it may be one of the things that makes this country great, it was always one of the things I thought disqualified me to really be patriotic.

Guess I was buying the spin too.

The most noble and patriotic thing that an American can do is to question authority. That is what makes America beautiful, and that is patriotism.

Photo Credit: Jcolman