On love of country: A personal essay

Photo of the American Flag
Brett Levin Photography/Creative Commons

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July 4, 2020

All of my friends are streaming “Hamilton,” which I used to love. I cannot bring myself to rewatch it after learning that Toni Morrison funded a counter-play called “The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda.” I realize now that having actors of color heroically portray the likes of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson is not unlike having someone of Jewish descent prance about on a stage, singing the praises of Hitler. It has the same tenor I hear in the voices of my Pilipinx family when they applaud our American colonizers. 

It is one thing to believe that a nation is capable of great good and quite another to think — as “Hamilton” unabashedly does — that it is predestined for justice, that time will miraculously deliver us into the arms of objective good.

When I tell my parents or my friends from home about my distrust of the American project, they accuse me of being unpatriotic. This is heresy of the highest degree, the ramblings of another brainwashed Berzerkeley liberal. But I reject the cult of America; she is not my god, and dissent — nay, righteous anger — is the purest form of love I have to give. 

I have never understood this conception of the United States as some kind of deity or benevolent protector. There is nothing maternal to me about our nation. In fact, it makes more sense to me to think of America as a child, one that I am compelled to admonish.

This parenting is difficult though because I am not America’s rightful guardian — and neither are most of the people I expect to read this. In a gross prefiguring of the current administration’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy, we ripped America from the arms of her rightful guardians — the Navajo, the Cherokee, the Ohlone.

 

August 27, 2020

 Basketball has shut down. I think of Colin Kaepernick, who chose kneeling as his form of protest. In my Catholic faith, kneeling is the most reverent position one can assume, short of prostration. During the Mass, we kneel when Christ is made present in the flesh; this is how we greet our God. To me, the highest form of honor one can pay their country — its heroes, its martyrs, its victims — is to kneel.

But my love of country does not even approach my love of my Lord, and I have let go of my deeply held belief that America is intrinsically good — or at least strived toward good. I know now that the default state of our country is sin and cruelty, and it illustrates the great privileges I have been afforded to have labored under my delusion for 22 years. The evil that plagues our history is not anomalous; it is the bedrock of the United States. 

I love my country, but I do not worship her. To worship my country would be to refuse to hold her responsible for her promises and her trespasses. She is not perfect — she cannot be — but I will settle. I will settle for that radical promise of liberty and justice for all, if ever we fulfill it. 

 

November 2, 2020

Tonight I pray Psalm 58, “The Dethroning of Unjust Rulers.”

 

November 3, 2020

It is such a beautiful day outside, by which I mean that climate change has rendered this third day of November warm and walkable — an abominable thing in a luminous package. What is clear is that the earth itself cries out, just like in Scripture: “The earth mourns and fades, the world languishes and fades; both heaven and earth languish” (Isaiah 24:4).

It is the feast of St. Martin de Porres. He was born in Lima, Peru to a Spanish noble father (who abandoned him) and a freed slave of Black and/or Indigenous heritage. His story is not dissimilar to that of Alexander Hamilton — the “bastard, orphan, son of a whore … impoverished in squalor.” He is the patron saint of many things, including racial harmony, social justice and public health workers.

I think about this during Mass. I think about this as I pray, on my knees, for my country.  

 

January 20, 2017

“This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.” — President Donald Trump in his inaugural address

 

November 7, 2020

I wake up to the sound of people honking their car horns in celebration. Twitter tells me that we have ousted Trump. I go for a walk. 

Tomorrow marks four years since I was a senior in high school staring at my laptop screen in dread as battleground states flipped a menacing crimson. Wolf Blitzer told me that Trump would be the next president of the United States. 

I have heard repeatedly the stories about what happened in Berkeley that night as the residence halls and streets erupted in screams. Today is different. There is a lightness to the air, but we have only defeated Trump, not Trumpism.

There is a temptation to think that the dragon is slain, that after a four-year hiatus in the American Utopia, it will resume forthwith. We have won the battle for the soul of the nation. We have made America great again. 

I want to believe that Uncle Joe will save our country, the way that, just a few months ago, I thought a President Elizabeth Warren or Bernie Sanders would. I know he will not. His campaign’s thesis relies on a romanticized American greatness, not unlike that of his opponent. Joe Biden calls for a reformation, rather than an abolition, of the lie that we are the greatest country on earth. 

Bipartisanship is not an ideology; it is a strategy, and when it is not working unequivocally toward justice, it is working toward oppression. 

It might in fact be more accurate that things are worse off. The devils who prowl about Washington seeking the ruin of souls will now be compelled to wear their masks of “bipartisanship” and “decency” — but these empty values are only virtuous when the parties involved are virtuous themselves. Compromise with a corrupt agenda — or among multiple corrupt agendas — is appeasement, not peace. Bipartisanship is not an ideology; it is a strategy, and when it is not working unequivocally toward justice, it is working toward oppression. 

We have not killed the infection. We have merely sent it underground. And in four years, when Kamala Harris — with her own set of disappointments — runs against a “respectable” Republican (who will bear no ideological difference from Trump), we will be tossed back into a “lesser of two evils” scenario. 

This victory is an abominable thing in a luminous package.

This is not to say that Biden and Trump are the same. The differences between the two are readily apparent, but at their core, they represent all that is wrong with America, indeed, all that America is. Our nation still occupies Indigenous lands and pillages foreign soils as we play both sides of a race between destroying our planet and engorging the insatiable guts of the free market.

So while I breathe my sigh of relief, I think of all those who did not live to see this day. I think of the 237,000 Americans whose breath was ripped from their lungs by COVID-19. I think of the 3,000 people who drowned in Hurricane Maria or died in its aftermath and the countless Puerto Ricans who still await the assistance owed to them. I think of the Black victims of execution in the same streets now erupting in jubilation. I think of Flint, Michigan, which voted for Biden this year despite losing its right to clean water under his vice presidency. I think of the children sleeping in cages and the unhoused sleeping in hostile public spaces tonight.

I will not forget what we allowed to happen. I will not let it happen again.

Contact Edrick Sabalburo at [email protected].