Robert B. Reich: Inclusive, exclusive patriotism
We hear a lot about patriotism, especially around the Fourth of July. But in 2016 we’re hearing about two very different types of patriotism. One is an inclusive patriotism that binds us together. The other is an exclusive patriotism that keeps others out.
Through most of our history we’ve understood patriotism the first way. We’ve celebrated the values and ideals we share in common: democracy, equal opportunity, freedom, tolerance and generosity.
We’ve recognized these as aspirations to which we recommit ourselves on the Fourth of July.
This inclusive patriotism prides itself on giving hope and refuge to those around the world who are most desperate — as memorialized in Emma Lazarus’ famous lines engraved on the Statue of Liberty: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
By contrast, we’re now hearing a strident, exclusive patriotism. It asserts a unique and superior “Americanism” that’s determined to exclude others beyond our borders.
Donald Trump famously wants to ban all Muslims from coming to America, and to build a wall along the Mexican border to keep out Mexicans.
Exclusive patriotism tells us to fear foreign terrorists in our midst — even though almost every terrorist attack since 9/11 has been perpetrated by American citizens or holders of green cards living here for a decade or more.
Exclusive patriotism is not welcoming or generous. Since the war in Syria began in 2011, we’ve allowed in only 3,127 out of the more than 4 million refugees who have fled that nation.
Republicans in Congress reacted to the Orlando, Florida, massacre with a proposal to ban all refugees to the United States indefinitely. Rep. Brian Babin of Texas wants to place “an immediate moratorium on all refugee resettlement programs … to keep America safe and defend our national security.”
With El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua convulsed in drug-related violence, thousands of unaccompanied children and nearly as many mothers and children have fled northward. But rather than welcome them, we’ve detained them at the border and told others contemplating the journey to stay home.
Another difference: Inclusive patriotism instructs us to join together for the common good.
We’ve understood this to require mutual sacrifice — from frontier settlers who helped build one another’s barns, to neighbors who volunteered for the local fire department, to towns and cities that sent off their boys to fight wars for the good of all.
Such patriotism requires taking on a fair share of the burdens of keeping America going — including a willingness to pay taxes.
But the strident voices of exclusive patriotism tell us that no sacrifice should be required, especially by the well off.
Exclusive patriotism celebrates the acquisitive individual and lone entrepreneur. It tells us that taxes on the wealthy slow economic growth and deter innovation.
Trump wants to reduce the highest income tax rate to 25 percent from today’s 39.6 percent. No matter that this would result in higher deficits or cuts in Social Security, Medicare and programs for the poor. They’re supposedly good for growth.
A third difference: Inclusive patriotism has always sought to protect our democracy — defending the right to vote and seeking to ensure that more Americans are heard.
But the new voices of exclusive patriotism seem not to care about democracy. They’re willing to inundate it with big money that buys off politicians, and they don’t seem to mind when politicians create gerrymandered districts that suppress the votes of minorities or erect roadblocks to voting such as stringent voter ID requirements.
Finally, inclusive patriotism doesn’t pander to divisiveness, as does the alternative patriotism that focuses on who “doesn’t belong” because of racial or religious or ethnic differences. Inclusive patriotism isn’t homophobic or sexist or racist.
To the contrary, inclusive patriotism confirms and strengthens the “we” in “we the people of the United States.”
So will it be inclusive or exclusive patriotism? A celebration of “us” or contempt for “them”?
Inclusive patriotism is our national creed. It is born of hope. Mean-spirited, exclusive patriotism is new to our shores. It is born of fear.
Let us hope that this Fourth of July and in the months and years ahead we choose inclusion over exclusion, hope over fear.