What Makes A MAGA Republican 'Patriotic'?
A few months ago, some marketer got hold of my cellphone number, and I've been deluged ever since with text appeals from MAGA world and the GOP. One sample from just the last few days:
"IMPEACH BIDEN POLL DUE TONIGHT! Mona, we're begging, please take 30 seconds to join fellow patriots and take the official GOP poll."
Watching the midterms play out, and seeing the GOP nominate people like Herschel Walker, Don Bolduc, Doug Mastriano and Kari Lake, I am struck by a strange incongruity. The MAGA messages incessantly invoke love of America. But it's worth pausing to wonder what they love.
Their professed love for America leads them to rally around Walker, who seems to be both a mentally unstable and bad man. It's not just run-of-the-mill lies such as claiming that he graduated in the top 1% of his class at the University of Georgia when in truth he didn't graduate at all. Those lies are bad, but differ in degree more than kind from exaggerations we've heard from politicians in the past.
No, the more pernicious lies are the ones that bring actual virtues into disrepute. Walker has made promoting responsible fatherhood part of his image. He has gone even further (perhaps in an effort to score points among white conservatives) by calling out irresponsible Black fathers in particular. In a 2021 interview he said: "If you have a child with a woman, even if you have to leave that woman ... you don't leave that child." And speaking to Charlie Kirk, he boasted that he had served as a father figure for young African-American kids in his hometown of Wrightsville, Georgia, but that he should have done more. "I want to apologize to the African-American community, because the fatherless home is a major, major problem."
So when the Daily Beast revealed that Walker had not one, not two, but three unacknowledged children he had not raised, and that this advocate for "no exceptions" to laws outlawing abortion had paid for one abortion and encouraged another, it all might have been too much for a party that had even a nodding familiarity with integrity. But no, Sens. Rick Scott and Tom Cotton, Republican National Committee chair Ronna (used to be Romney) McDaniel, and Ralph Reed of the Faith and Freedom Coalition rallied behind Walker.
Now, hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, but if you're caught in hypocrisy, you have to take the consequences, otherwise people could get the idea that you are total cynics who don't really believe in anything except power.
And this brings us back to patriotism because one of the reasons to love your country is that it elevates certain virtues like integrity, courage, decency and honor. Politics is a tough business that frequently attracts ambitious, less-than-sterling people. But surely one aspect of patriotism is revulsion at seeing your nation's leadership sullied by flagrant liars, bigots and cheats. You don't want to elevate someone who sent buses to the Capitol on Jan. 6 and consorts with antisemites, or who admires the Unabomber, or who believes that "Mike Pence is a traitor," or who questions the legitimacy of our elections as a majority of GOP nominees this year do. Yet those are the leaders who get GOP pulses racing.
Another aspect of this faux patriotism is the attraction to autocrats and thugs around the globe. While it's true that America doesn't have an unblemished record when it comes to international affairs (who does?), one of the things that always nurtured my own patriotic sentiment was the overall sense that we were the good guys — or at least tried to be. Of course we did business with bad regimes and had friendly relations with some very dubious allies (like Saudi Arabia), but we were also the lifeline for struggling democracies like Taiwan, Israel, and South Korea. When the world faces an emergency like a tsunami or a famine or an act of raw aggression, they don't phone Xi or Putin; they call the White House.
But the GOP today, while draping itself in the mantle of patriotism, is signaling that in the greatest challenge to freedom in the globe today — the unprovoked, imperialist, brutal invasion of Ukraine by Russia — they are seriously considering cutting off aid to Ukraine.
Minority Leader and would-be House Speaker Kevin McCarthy is saying that a Republican-majority Congress would not "write a blank check" to Ukraine. With their courage and sacrifice, the Ukrainians are redeeming the idea of liberty at a time when many around the world were losing faith in democracy. They are demonstrating that, contrary to the propaganda of autocrats everywhere, democracies are actually stronger than dictatorships. And they are showing that some things, like the right to live free — to think what you want, read what you want, worship as you wish, and say what you think — are worth fighting and dying for.
The America I love is wholeheartedly behind Ukraine. McCarthy and big swaths of his party claim to love America, but they make this nation less worthy of patriotism.
Reprinted with permission from Creators.
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