Patriotism is a two-sided blade. Positive patriotism promotes national unity, cohesion, and pride. Negative patriotism causes xenophobia, squashes dissent, and reduces innovation. Let’s imagine for a moment that President Trump’s speech in Arkansas in September, 2017 went something like this:
“I’ve been troubled by watching football players take the knee during the pre-game playing of our national anthem. I am even more bothered by the continuing incidents of unequal treatment and brutality toward Americans, especially people of color, under the auspices of our justice system and law enforcement agencies. Protest is good, because it makes us aware of critical problems in our society. It is important to take pride in our country’s symbols, as they help to promote a strong and unified nation. However, I am troubled that taking the knee, rather than highlighting a problem, is misconstrued as a lack of patriotism and does a disservice to the players’ message. So I urge our heroes of the gridiron to find a less controversial platform to promote awareness as well as the action required to make good on our constitutional guarantee of equal protection and equal enforcement of our laws. And I will do everything I can as president to assure that justice is served.”
I wonder what kind of conversation we would be having now if Trump had actually said those words. As I wrote this blog, I thought about our patriotic symbols—which can be both unifying and divisive, toxic and healing. Many of the stories in this collection focus on similar riddles in our lives. Do I provide answers? No . . . but you might enjoy reading them and reflecting on the paradoxes in your own lives.