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Our country, right or wrong

By Mike Ruffin I love the United States of America. This is my home. I was born here. I have lived here all my life. I’ve visited a few other countries, but I’m always glad to get home to the good old U.S.A. To quote the great theologian Chuck Berry, ‘I’m so glad I’m livin’ in the U.S.A.!’ I love the United States of America. That’s why it makes me happy when we promote equality, practice justice, and foster community. That’s why it makes me unhappy when we don’t do those things. I am proud of America. I want to become even prouder. That’s why I sometimes find it necessary to criticize our nation, its policies, and its leaders. Some folks seem to think that it’s wrong to criticize the current president. But those same folks didn’t think it was wrong to criticize the president who served before him. Our problem is never with people criticizing the president. It’s with people criticizing this or that president. If we don’t agree with or like the president, we think it’s fine for us or anyone else to criticize him. But if we agree with or like the president, then we think it’s wrong for someone to criticize him. Our attitude toward criticizing the president is more about partisanship than patriotism. Loving America doesn’t mean always going along with whatever our leaders choose to do. And being critical of a leader doesn’t constitute hating America. The idea that criticizing a president or other leader is unpatriotic is itself unpatriotic. When President Trump ran for office, his campaign slogan was ‘Make America Great Again.’ The slogan implied that America was no longer great. It implied that something was wrong with America that needed to be corrected. Many people embraced that slogan and the assumptions behind it. Did they not love America? Did someone tell them to go back where they came from? (By the way, unless we’re ancestors of those Native Americans who were already here when Europeans started arriving, our ancestors all came from somewhere else.) Some of us believe that the current president’s vision of what makes America great and his approaches to fulfilling that vision actually lessen and weaken the nation. We speak, write, and work against his agenda not because we hate America but because we love it. I want my nation to be the best nation it can be. I want it to make progress toward living up to its ideals. I don’t want us to settle for less than we can be. I don’t want us to accept division, prejudice, racism, xenophobia, and fear as its norms. When someone criticizes or protests something that is going on in the United States, they might be criticized as being un-American or unpatriotic. But there are times when not criticizing and protesting is un-American and unpatriotic. I affirm the statement, ‘My country, right or wrong.’ Whether it is right or wrong, the United States is my country. I celebrate when we do right. But I don’t celebrate when we do wrong. And the United States is sometimes wrong. When we are, it is still my country. But I want it to do right. I want it to do better. I want my country always to be growing toward being the best country it can be. I echo the words of Dr. King in his ‘I have a dream’ speech: ‘Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” We understand even better than our founders did what it means for ‘all men’ to be ‘created equal.’ We know that it means that all people’”female or male, black or brown or white, gay or straight’”are created equal. Our national goal should be for all people to be treated the same. Our national commitment should be for all of us to work together for the common good. Now, we will debate what constitutes being ‘right’ and ‘wrong.’ That’s when things get really difficult. I know that. I recognize that we can’t all just get along and expect everything to work out. I know that we will disagree and debate. But we disagree and debate most productively when we start from a place of mutual respect. When we all accept each other as Americans who love our country and who want it to be the best country it can be, we can work toward compromises that will move us ever closer to fulfilling our promise. ’Our country, right or wrong.’ When our country is wrong, we need to work together to make it right. When our county is right, we need to work together to make it better.

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