On September 11, 2001, there was a small American flag mounted on the wall above my desk at work. By that time it had been there for several years.

Wall decorations are not my forte, but anything that breaks the monotony of gray is a welcome thing. And I’ve also felt quite patriotic about the U.S.A. ever since I was a kid.

For a large part of my life, this patriotism was mainly a result of me being born here. Later I realized that our country wasn’t perfect and that in fact there were many reasons to be ashamed of it.

But still, I reason that many people emigrate to the U.S.A. for the opportunity it affords the common person, and while other countries do some things better than us, I think our system of government and our culture are overall pretty great.

These days, though, I don’t feel pride when I see an American flag bumper sticker. I am often embarrassed when I run into Americans abroad. Ignorance and a lack of decorum have for me ruined many genuine displays of patriotism.

There was a short time after September 11th, as the country bonded in a time of domestic and emotional crisis, when I was happy to see flags popping up on cars and in offices and in shopping centers.

Great, I thought. Too bad it takes an attack on our soil to stop the national sleepwalking epidemic, but so be it. Glad to have you folks on board. The more people we have thinking about government and politics and our country’s position in the world, the better off we’ll be.

Man, I was so wrong. Turns out that many of these patriotic bumper stickers are simply a way to identify people who, rather than think in depth about our country and its challenges, want to marginalize our democracy into a “you’re with us, or you’re against us” mentality.

Of course I’m not speaking for every single driver out there whose vehicle is labeled with an American flag bumper sticker. It’s wrong to paint with too wide a brush.


But I do get the feeling that many conservative people believe they have a monopoly on patriotism. They don’t.

They do have a pretty good handle on bad style, though. On a transatlantic plane ride, it’s not hard to spot travelers from the heartland. Men, you aren’t required to wear a plaid shirt with pleated, tan Dockers. Women, why not try something other than light blue elasto-band jeans and the red-white-and-blue T-shirt?

Anyway, just because a person is interested in the political opinions of other countries, just because you don’t believe it’s just to paint the word “freedom” on naked aggression, that doesn’t mean you hate American freedom.

Most political ideologies have at least some merit, and a blend of them would probably work best.

But I’ve been worried for a while that the country is so polarized that we’ll never reach another consensus on anything.

The recent Congressional elections, however, may have proven me wrong. On top of that, an amazing thing happened over the holiday break.

My conservative dad, who I love to death, expressed discontent with the conflict in Iraq for the first time. My mom said, and I quote, “I sure do like that Barack Obama.”

I’m not expressing a political statement or an endorsement here. I have no idea how my parents will vote in the future, and it’s none of my business.

But I know how they’ve leaned in the past. And if they would even consider something different…well, then maybe we all can.

*Dress code joke courtesy of Nelson DeMille.

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RICHARD COX is the author of The Boys of Summer, Thomas World, The God Particle, and Rift. He can be reached on Facebook or at his personal web site, www.richardcox.net.

One response to “Patriotism Doesn’t Mean a Bumper Sticker, and Why the State Department Should Issue a Dress Code to Americans Traveling Abroad”

  1. […] Angry man who should be working for the State Department. […]

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