Defined by what you are for

July 8, 2018

Martin Hackworth

Last week I wrote about the Balkinization of the United States and how President Trump has contributed to it. This week, in the spirit of Independence Day, I’d like to continue that thread by discussing patriotism and citizenship.

I agree with most of the standard definitions of patriotism and good citizenship: public service, military service, respect for our ideals. I don’t agree that those who wear these on their sleeves and shout the loudest are always the best examples of any of it. I also think that there are other behaviors that are at least as useful in defining productive, patriotic citizenship in a free society.

What about the simple act of obeying the law? Think of the law enforcement resources that could be put to better use if people simply self-regulated their behavior better than they do now.

I’m out on roads and highways a lot and I see little evidence that most of my fellow travelers are overly concerned with speed limits, distracted driving, the use of turn signals, etc. Because such behaviors are common we, as a society, are on the hook for a lot of enforcement. Motor vehicle accidents consistently rank somewhere in or near the top five causes of death in this country. The cost of poor driving is both high and easily remedied. Put down your cell phone, pay attention to speed limits and actually learn how to drive.

If more folks did a better job of regulating their driving behaviors, something that is ridiculously easy in the face of what’s at stake, it would clearly benefit all of us. I’d consider that an excellent example of citizenship and patriotism because you’d be doing a lot to improve the lives of your fellow citizens. No marching through Afghanistan with a rifle required.

Aspiring to be less selfish is another behavior that I think could be considered extremely patriotic. After last week’s column several readers opined that surely I wasn’t serious about accepting the fact that the President of the United States is Donald J. Trump. Resist!

In fact I am. I meant every word of it. If not I wouldn’t have written the column. A lot of people that I know and like voted for Trump and though I disagree with their decision I have no intention of disrespecting their choice.

Plus I kind of understand it. There has been some interesting current research done on the concept of voters defining themselves by what they are against rather than what they are for. I’m generally not big on this but I do get it — even if I’d personally much rather be defined by what I’m for than what I’m against.

I have to admit that there was a part of me that enjoyed the panic that the election of Trump ignited among a coterie of smug people completely inebriated on the righteousness of the left and its causes. When you spend a lot of your time banging on everyone who disagrees with you as less intelligent than you, racist, sexist, nativist, etc., well, it’s difficult for me to feel sorry for you when those folks decide to give you some comeuppance.

In America the person holding up the wall in front of a Quickie Mart is the same as the richest cat on Wall Street in the voting booth. So are Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables.” I think that comprehending all of that makes you a better citizen. It probably also enhances your chances of actually winning elections that you should have won.

I think that President Trump, more than anything, reflects the fact that there are a lot of people in this country who are tired of being talked down to and having their concerns marginalized. I think that most of them are smart enough to understand that Trump is indeed a piece of work. Their support of him was a way of signaling their existence. They count too. They are citizens of this country the same as everyone else. Recognizing that makes you a better citizen as well.

I know that these views are galling to many of my friends and former colleagues in academia because I hear it from them all of the time. “You used to have a respectable career” is a common refrain.

A lot of these folks think that their views count for more because of the credentials associated with them. In a scientific/academic/peer review sense I agree. In a leadership sense I agree. But not as a citizen in a democracy. If you were to substitute “members of the military” and guns into the the appropriate places in the first sentence of this paragraph those same people would lose their minds.

And I’d agree with them on that too.

Associated Press and Idaho Press Club award-winning columnist Martin Hackworth of Pocatello is a physicist, writer, consultant and retired Idaho State University faculty member who now spends his time happily raising three children, llama farming and riding mountain bikes and motorcycles.

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