By Carmen Gentile
Trump supporters near the US Capitol following a "Stop the Steal" rally on Jan. 6, 2021, in Washington, D.C. The protesters stormed the historic building, breaking windows and clashing with police. Trump supporters had gathered in the nation's capital today to protest the ratification of President-elect Joe Biden's Electoral College victory over President Trump in the 2020 election. // Photo by Selcuk Acar / NurPhoto via AP
Far-right politicians often try to cloak their conspiracies, hatred, and servitude to the ultra-rich in the red, white, and blue. This Independence Day, Americans everywhere should reject the far-right claim to own the flag and once again put our common good first, grounded in patriotism and a love of country.
A Wall Street Journal/NORC poll in March found that the share of Americans who say “patriotism” is very important to them has dropped down to 38% from 70% since 1998. Thanks to this far-right farce purporting to define patriotism, Americans risk losing our sense of community, our shared identity of “Americanism” that crosses background, race, class, and so much else. If we can reclaim patriotism from the extreme forces in this country, we can grow our shared commitment to fight for the common good, to one another, and to a better nation.
I was 17 years old on Sept.11, 2001. After that terrible day, I felt drawn to service and to do what I could for this great country of ours in that dark time. I decided to put on a uniform, attend the Naval Academy, and later lead Americans through deployments as a naval officer at sea and on the ground in Iraq.
You learn a simple lesson in the Navy: Ship, Shipmate, Self. You put the mission first, you put others before yourself. My fellow veterans and I, across every generation who wore the uniform, were willing to risk our lives for this great nation.
Each had their own motivation, but all of us believed in something simple and pure: America is worth fighting for.
So too is the common good, where we thrive when our shared prosperity, our freedom, and our democracy are paramount. I think that is precisely what patriotism demands, and service is a foundational component to this vision. Service can take many forms and will be a key bulwark against hatred, division, and anti-democratic conspiracy.
Sept. 11 was an extremely low point in American history, when terrorists attacked us here at home.
Yet on Jan. 6. 2021, some of our own attacked the Capitol. It broke my heart to see the People’s seat of government overrun by rioters violently attacking police and aiming to overthrow our Constitution. These insurrectionists were spurred on by right-wing politicians spewing rhetoric that their rampage was patriotic — nothing could be further from the truth.
These right-wing extremists and insurrectionists act like they own the flag, often dressing up like military personnel and wrapping themselves in the stars and stripes. Every American should reject their delusional claim to patriotism. Every patriotic American understands that “government of, by, and for the people” is a lot stronger than the misplaced loyalty of armed extremists.
It is unpatriotic to attack police and the very seat of the government. It is an affront to the flag to lie about stolen elections, trying to throw out Americans’ votes. And this right-wing extremism and their enablers in office continue to erode the rule of law, undermine democracy, and fan the flames of insurrection.
Patriotism has been corrupted by the far-right as a messaging tool, manipulated with conspiracy theories to excuse so many of their dangerous ideas. Every single leader in America must condemn all political violence, and genuinely work to prevent it in the future. We must reclaim patriotism for what we know it to be: a love of country. And to love America is to love democracy.
But democracy cannot thrive in a system where economic liberty is at stake. Rampant inequality, monopoly power, billionaire and corporate control of elections — these forces all undermine our freedom. Patriotism demands we must instead put the common good first.
Patriotism has been twisted a million different ways by those with something to gain to equate love of country with a love of money and wealth. Huge corporations and the ultra-wealthy have distorted our politics and government to do their bidding.
Western Pennsylvanians know what happens when corporate greed gets free reign, because corporate America and globalization tried to peel back our prosperity from us, bit by bit. They looked at our region and tried to strip us for parts, prioritizing profit and payoff over our hard work and loyalty. These forces pushed horrible trade deals that gutted the Rust Belt. They allowed the growth of corporate giants, dominating market share, dictating terms to workers, ripping off the American people, and killing small businesses. American workers were replaced with underpaid and exploited ones overseas — many of whom endangered by poor safety and environmental standards.
If there is one lesson I learned in fighting for a union and through leading Americans in uniform, it is the power of solidarity. We can accomplish so much, and we are a lot stronger, when we stand together.
These powerful people didn’t care one bit for the values that we learned growing up in Western Pennsylvania: hard work, patriotism, and sacrifice. We are the people who made the steel that built America and fought and fueled this country’s wars. But those sacrifices stood in the way of profit and mattered not at all.
I still see it today in Congress, where far too many do the mental gymnastics to convince themselves that runaway corporate greed and power are not problems at all. I see too many politicians on the right carrying water for the big corporations that have been ripping us off: drunk on an ideology that says a working American matters less than some corporate profit line somewhere. We need to attack head-on the raw corporate power that is sucking the lifeblood out of our workers and our communities.
We should all be sick and tired of right-wing politicians wrapping themselves in the flag and then selling us out to the highest bidder. We should be rejecting the fantasy of trickle-down economics that has been a disaster for all but the most powerful in this country. We must reclaim the flag for the American values of democracy and freedom, prioritizing the common good and our shared prosperity. Pushing back against out-of-control corporate greed is a key part of that. So is protecting the sacred right to vote.
If there is one lesson I learned in fighting for a union and through leading Americans in uniform, it is the power of solidarity. We can accomplish so much, and we are a lot stronger, when we stand together. Folks in Western Pennsylvania — and every corner of America — love this country. And they crave more reasons to put their faith in the promise of America.
I refuse to stop believing that America is worth fighting for, that this can be a land of hope and dreams for all of us. This Independence Day, let us rededicate ourselves to our patriotism, standing up against the extreme-right, anti-democratic forces who have tried to make it a dirty word. Let’s recommit to this country and the common good.
If we all do our part, we cannot fail.
Democratic Rep. Chris Deluzio is a freshman congressman representing Pennsylvania’s 17th district, as well as an Iraq War veteran, voting-rights attorney, and union organizer.
By Marcella S. Kreiter
By Carmen Gentile