Though I suggest Trump and his supporters on this issue are missing the protesters’ point — and, in some cases, doing so willfully — I have no doubt that, for Trump’s part, patriotism is indeed at stake. The trouble is the sort of patriotism that informs their ire, for patriotism is not of a single kind.
.. Frodo does not love the Shire because it is the best country in Middle-earth. It does not boast the striking scenery and deep knowledge of the elven kingdoms, or the security and wealth of the dwarves, or the cosmopolitanism and architecture of the cities of men. The Shire does not have to be the best, for it is already home and already good in its own way.
If the patriotism Tolkien depicts is small, the patriotism most prevalent in America today is a poisonous variety we might call “big patriotism,” or, less charitably, nationalism. Its contrast with more modest variants is vast.
.. Small patriotism is the love of home because it is home.
.. Big patriotism is all abstract ideals and national mythology, easily bent to fit any political agenda. It is centered on the state, not the people, and certainly not any concrete community in which we are thoroughly engaged.
.. Big patriotism is a top-down phenomenon, anchored in the self-declared glory of government and the idolatrous liturgies of civil religion.
- When small patriotism thinks of America, it conjures an image of some local vista and the people who populate it.
- Big patriotism pictures the hulking forms of federal monuments and the grim grandeur of war.
.. “Once you have realized that the Frenchmen like café complet just as we like bacon and eggs — why, good luck to them and let them have it,” C.S. Lewis wrote in The Four Loves.
.. “[h]ow can I love my home without coming to realize that other men, no less rightly, love theirs?” Their love in no way detracts from mine, for we are not in competition.
.. Big patriotism is always a matter of comparison. It is, as Lewis put it, “a firm, even prosaic belief that our own nation, in sober fact, has long been, and still is markedly superior to all others.” Big patriotism is incapable of appreciating our home’s good qualities except at the expense of other places. Foreign lands and people must be put down if we are to be held up.
.. It is the foundation of jingoistic American exceptionalism and a constant siren song to empire — for why shouldn’t the world be ruled by the best?
Small patriotism is humble and open to constructive critique. Just as we would welcome an exterminator telling us our house has termites, so in small patriotism we can give a hearing to those who see some problem with our home. Big patriotism cannot hear a word against country, however gentle or wise. The best, by definition, cannot be wrong.
.. It does not ask to be valued above more significant loyalties, like those to God or family or concrete community. Big patriotism demands pre-eminence.
.. Big patriotism is incessantly self-serious and therefore always on the brink of offense.
.. But however natural it can feel, big patriotism is poisonous, and it leads to the type of shallow outrage we now see over these athletes’ attempt to respectfully call attention to a grave concern.