Funny Patriots

The American revolution and the independence of the United States gave birth to a number of myths that people have used to serve a political purpose ever since. They like to quote texts or the Founding Fathers regardless of the context of the time.

I have always thought that our neighbors pride themselves, and rightfully so, on what their ancestors achieved. American independence was the first to concretely apply the philosophies of the Enlightenment, and the rules established at the outset inspired other revolutions, while allowing the rapid development of a young nation.

If the feat is not banal, the development of an exacerbated patriotism tends to make us forget the imperfections of the Founding Fathers and the nuances surrounding the debates on the writing of the Declaration [of Independence], the Constitution and the forming of a political system. Between the complexity and the myth, we are drawn more often to the latter.

I am always fascinated as soon as I see the development of small groups or movements that claim their heritage from the first patriots. Why? First, because these movements are populist, and the founders of the country were representatives of the elite colonials, both economically and intellectually, from both the North and South. They have very little in common with the people who pretend nowadays to be their successors.

My fascination is also based on the group members’ lack of historical knowledge, or their selective memory. Closer to us in time, the tea party movement and Trumpism are good examples of the simplistic misrepresentation of concepts and of elaborate and nuanced thoughts. I often ask myself what Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin would have thought of Sarah Palin and Donald Trump.

I don’t think I’m taking a big risk or distorting the history of the United States if I state that the prospect of seeing individuals so ignorant, morally unworthy and unqualified so close to power would make them shudder. As well as being inspired by the Enlightenment and concerned with representation, the Founding Fathers were equally concerned about democracy.

But why write a post today about these issues? Because, among the rioters at Capitol Hill on Jan. 6, you would find a huge number of participants who responded positively to the calls of Trump and who, in doing so, consider themselves patriots.

As it is every time a misinformed horde goes after the authorities, quotes by the Founding Fathers are used in an incomplete manner and completely removed from their original context. You may know this one: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” According to the principal writer of the Declaration of Independence, the tree of liberty should be watered from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.

How many of the Jan. 6 rioters do you believe know which document this quote comes from and, more importantly, the meaning it should have? Have these self-proclaimed patriots forgotten that Jefferson contributed to the development of a standing army, that he carried out the most important purchase of land (Louisiana) before giving it over to federal control, that he was president and that he founded the University of Virginia? Of the man’s work, they retain only a brief passage.

Jefferson may well be a giant of American history, but he sometimes contradicts himself by refusing to envisage solutions for the problems he denounced, such as slavery. Even if he believed that one must be vigilant toward institutions and that violence is sometimes necessary, I find it hard to imagine him among the rioters on Jan. 6. Jefferson worked toward the development and improvement of institutions.

I was pleased yesterday about the freedom given to one of the federal judges involved in the trials of the rioters. She gave them a small lesson in history by informing them that their actions during the attack were far from patriotic, and that they could not claim the status of political prisoners.

While I am pleased, I am also concerned. I cannot believe that in 2021 defendants must be reminded that they are not being judged because of their political beliefs, but because of their actions. If you disagree with the direction of the country, go out and vote. However, this vote is no more valuable than anyone else’s and you must respect the outcome.

To close this article off, I’ll leave you with another declaration from Judge Amy Berman Jackson: “You called yourself and everyone else patriots, but that’s not patriotism. Patriotism is loyalty to country, loyalty to the Constitution, not loyalty to a head of state. That’s the tyranny we rejected on July 4.” A patriot is loyal to their country and to the Constitution, not to a single man. The U.S. rejected tyranny on July 4, 1776.

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