After Vancouver lost on their home ice to Boston in the Stanley Cup Finals, rabid Canuck fans took to the streets, leaving a path of destruction in their wake. These fanatics probably thought of themselves as “super patriots,” loyal to the local hockey franchise. In fact, they were nothing more than a pack of infantile, sociopathic brats throwing a violent tantrum because they didn’t get their way. Legendary basketball coach Pat Riley had a “no layup” rule. If a player missed a defensive assignment, or got out maneuvered by a superior athlete, he was ordered to make up for it by preventing an easy basket, even if it meant tackling the player in mid-air. This “win at all cost” philosophy put Riley in the Hall of Fame.
Sports fans have much in common with so-called patriots. They are loyal to the home colors, love winning, and hate losing. Regardless of who played with more desire and alacrity, few sports fans are willing to acknowledge that they were beaten by a better team. Flag wavers are much the same. Many believe that any implication that their country is in any way flawed is an act of sedition. The stars and stripes are a symbol of our highest national potential, a noble experiment in unprecedented freedom. As human beings are in charge of this ongoing laboratory, human frailties and limitations inevitably reveal themselves. Like those that believe that The Bible is the exact, true word of God (ignoring that it was written by men, translated, re-translated, and re-interpreted many times through the centuries, often to further powerful agendas), national zealots tend to believe blindly in the “exceptionalism” of the USA. And that, in my opinion, is not patriotism.
To assume the absolute superiority of one nation over another, with little or no objective reflection, requires the same blind faith that moves religious extremists to stake claim to the only “true God” and the sole pathway to heaven. Nations are made up of humans, run by humans. So are churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples — and sports teams. The laws, holy books, and rules of the game were written by humans. Sports commissions meet yearly to discuss the rules and vote to make changes they hope will improve the game. Perhaps we should have a constitutional commissioner who would meet every year with a committee of wise men and women to re-examine a living document, one that would hopefully evolve along with our rapidly changing world. Should the second amendment actually apply to automatic assault weapons? After all, it was written when the only guns available were single-shot muskets. I think a true patriot would allow his or her nation to move forward as science, technology, and medicine make new discoveries. Clinging steadfast to “original intent” is not patriotic. The framers were wise men, but men of a certain era nonetheless, and men who could not have foreseen the massive changes innovated since they conceived of this divine experiment.
Twenty-five years ago, my California license plate read: RTHCTZN. This group of consonants puzzled 99% of the other folks on the road. It stood for Earth Citizen. Am I a patriot? I think so. But my patriotism is reserved for this third rock from the sun. I’m a fan of the home team, the good ol’ USA, the red, white, and blue. But, I don’t tip over and burn a car every time my country doesn’t live up to my lofty expectations. If I did that, there would be few vehicles left on the road.