“Love for or devotion to one’s country.” That’s the simple and short definition of “patriotism” found in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. So, here’s my question, “is it possible to be devoted to one’s country and still want to leave it?” “To be a patriot of a country in which you don’t want to be a citizen?”
For many years, Americans have heard ‘conservative,’ usually Republican, statements about how they represent the “real America” and are our country’s great patriots. While in North Carolina during the 2008 Presidential election, then-vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin referred to small towns as “the real America” and “pro-America areas of this great nation.”
Tomorrow, the Steven Spielberg movie ‘Lincoln’ will open in theaters around the country. President Abraham Lincoln famously delivered the Gettysburg Address on the afternoon of November 19, 1863, at the dedication of the Soldiers’ National Cemetery in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. It was little over four months after the bloody Civil War battle of Gettysburg at which the union armies defeated those of the confederacy.
Of course, the American Civil War was fought over the issue of human rights and freedom for enslaved African-Americans. But, it was also fought to preserve the American union and to prevent the secession of the southern confederate states.
In his great speech, Lincoln emphasized the important cause to keep our country united so that “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” Roughly 625,000 Americans died in the fight over that prevented secession.
In the short weeks after the second term election of President Barack Obama, residents in every U.S. state have filed petitions with the federal government, each seeking secession for their state. Under the President’s “We the People” program, each petition passes the threshold needed to be reviewed, and to require a response from the White House, if at least 25,000 signatures are received within 30 days. Only the petitions filed for eight southern states appear to have reached that required threshold so far. Louisiana was the first. Not surprisingly, Texas has received the most signatures with more than 110,000. Those two states are joined by the same North Carolina where Sarah Palin made her speech about “pro-American areas,” Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee and Missouri.
Some Republican governors from states with some of the greatest number of reported signatures have publicly opposed the secession efforts. Those governors included Gov. Bill Haslam of Tennessee, Gov. Robert Bentley of Alabama, and, notably, Gov. Rick Perry of Texas.
During a campaign stop in Iowa during the most recent Republican primaries, Governor Perry said, “I think you want a president who is passionate about America — that’s in love with America.” When asked by a reporter whether he was suggesting that Obama didn’t love this country, Perry replied “I dunno, you need to ask him.”
That was the same Rick Perry that said the following during a 2009 Tea Party rally, as reported by CNN, “if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot ... When we came into the nation in 1845, we were a republic, we were a stand-alone nation and one of the deals was, we can leave anytime we want. So we’re kind of thinking about that again.”
Not surprisingly, there has been some backlash targeted at the petition filers. Competing petitions, some of which have gained thousands of signatures, have been filed under the same White House “We the People” program. Many are part joke and part jab toward the would-be secessionists.
One petition seeks to strip citizenship from Americans that signed the secession petitions. Rare progressive Texans, from the progressive bastion of Austin, filed a petition to secede from Texas and remain part of the U.S. The “Keep the United States United” petition urges the federal government to reject all secession efforts, as it will undoubtedly do.
Interestingly, there is another filed petition called “Force all states to pay their portion of the national debt before they can secede from the union.” Not that any state is likely to succeed in secession, and not that any state could afford to pay its piece of our debt, but there is still something about this one that seems especially wise.
Many of the petitions seeking secession quote the American Declaration of Independence proclamation that “… Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, that whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and institute new Government ...” The filers of those petitions might benefit from reading the entire Declaration of Independence and its additional references to the destructive overseas government referenced in their quoted language. The Declaration’s list of facts “submitted to a candid world” describes something altogether different than simple disappointment about an election result. In fact, Thomas Jefferson, and the other founding fathers that created the great Declaration, did not generally even have the right to vote for their leaders.
One of the dark sides of the story of the petitions is the part played by racism. As cited in a CBS.com article, Peter Morrison, the treasurer of the Republican Party in the Texas county of Hardin, proposed in a post-election newsletter, an “amicable divorce” from the “maggots” who reelected President Obama, many of them voting on an “ethnic basis.”
Of course, there was a very large portion of this country that was very unhappy with our federal government during the eight years of the George W. Bush presidency. After the re-election of Bush in 2004, MSNBC host Lawrence O’Donnell suggested on the McLaughlin Group show that progressive states might consider secession. He asserted that 90% of the “red” conservative states are ‘net payees’ who receive more money from the federal government than they pay out to it and that many “blue” states pay more and receive less. He stated that “the segment of the country that pays for the federal government” was “being governed by the people who don’t pay.” With a progressive president now in the White House, that progressive secession sentiment has clearly faded.
It is certainly true that both parties, and all political stripes and allegiances, can be ‘sore losers’ of elections that threaten many forms of dissent from their political adversaries. However, the degree and character of recent dissent from many conservative Americans is troubling and a bit inappropriate for a self-defined ‘party of patriotism.’