Friday, February 20, 2015

Love of Country; Love of Self

Rudy Giuliani was once the Mayor of New York.  Since then, as far as I am aware, he has done nothing but pontificate when called upon to do so or when he is so inclined.  Lately,  he berates our perpetually berated President for not loving America.

This is to say, at the least, that the President does not love our country as much as Mr. Giuliani does, or not enough to satisfy Giuliani.  I'm afraid that when one makes unsolicited comments of this kind one is doing little more than positively calling attention to oneself under the pretense of commenting negatively on another.  This curious bit of "holier than thou" posturing may serve a legitimate purpose, however, if it provides us with an opportunity to wonder just what it means to love one's country, and what one does by loudly proclaiming that one loves one's country.

The great Sage of Baltimore, H.L Mencken, noted:  "Whenever you hear a man speak of his love for his country, it is a sign he expects to be paid for it."  The Sage was a cynical man, you might say.  But consider--when have you heard anyone proclaim that he/she loves his/her country?  In my experience, the person making such a claim does so while on camera and/or while speaking to an audience; at the least, while speaking to a group of people, perhaps while at some celebration or some solemn occasion where war dead are honored. 

It is thus a very public statement or declaration.  It is done for the benefit of others, to impress them in some manner.  One doesn't claim love for one's country as one normally would for one's spouse or child (one would be expected to do so at a wedding or similar ceremony, of course, but these are relatively rare).  Movie characters have been known to announce their love for their wives in the midst of some scene or other, generally in musicals.  But such love is usually declared privately.  It is an intimate statement or declaration.

How do we love our country?  I don't think one would love one's country as one would a person.  So, Mr. Giuliani's even more curious complaint that the President doesn't love him, or "us" either doesn't necessarily follow from the fact the President (according to Giuliani) doesn't love America.  The President of the United State should not be subject to criticism because he does not, like Jesus, love us all; that we are not all precious in his sight, black and yellow, red and white.

One rather love ones country for its beauty, its benefits, as one's home--as a place.

Assuming as I think we must, or at least as we should hope, that "love" is not used by Mr. Giuliani in this case as expressing romantic or sexual desire for America (or for Mr. Giuliani and the rest of us), its use as a verb would presumably be to express his opinion that the President does not cherish America; does not hold it dear, does not have great affection for it.  But if that's the case, his opinion is evidently based on the fact that the President has disturbed him by seeming at times to criticize America and to even have apologized for its conduct in some cases (the latter, apparently, is particularly intolerable to some).

But it should be obvious it's quite possible to be critical of someone or something you nonetheless cherish.  So it would seem the criticism is in essence that the President does not unconditionally love America, or that he does not appear to unconditionally love America--that he does not say he unconditionally love America or does not act like he unconditionally loves it, regardless of his feelings.

It's true that our politicians have typically been effusive in their praise for these United States, and have been careful not to seem otherwise.  Some are even maudlin in their praise.  We expect this from them, but we also expect them to be hypocrites and liars.  I doubt that any of us take their protestations of love for America very seriously.  They are transparently on the make.  Nobody votes for a politician because they sincerely believe he or she really loves America.  We assume, rightly I'm sure, that they don't hate America, that they like America, that they would preserve, protect and defend it and its Constitution.  And there is no reason we should not believe the same of the President.  But love?  They can't reasonably as politicians be expected to love anyone or anything but themselves and perhaps those who bankroll them.

I suspect this is what Mencken meant.  I also suspect Mr. Giuliani is well aware of this, and is simply making political points and calling attention to himself, by trumpeting that the President does not love America and Giuliani does as do all other right thinking Americans.

It's possible to think that a President who does not constantly praise America somehow weakens it in the eyes of the world, but it would not be intelligent to do so.  Why would anyone among our friends, allies or enemies be impressed by this adulation?  It's also possible to believe that it is part of the position of President to be unqualifiedly in support of the United States.  This makes a kind of sense, but such unqualified support need not be stupid.

But the fact is we do make mistakes and it would be absurd to pretend we don't; it would be impossible to respect a President or anyone else who believes the United States has never done and never will do wrong.  The fact is the United States is exceptional, even remarkable, and those we call the Founders created in the Constitution a thing of beauty.  Unfortunately, those who succeeded them have not shared their genius or have done so only sporadically. 

There really is no need to constantly tell ourselves or others that this is the case, however.  When we do so or revile others for not doing so, we seek to benefit ourselves; to get paid in some fashion.  Mencken was right.

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