Our winter has finally come to an end. Most of my neighbors are now tired of the snows and cold wind of our winter nights. The headaches of the next morning are starting to wear on us all and a yearning for old routines are getting more intense as the days passed into the spring.
Walking through the crowds of my neighborhood I saw many of my friends and family wearing flags and ribbons on their lapels and in their hair. The conversations were filled with concerns about what the future has in store for us all. Everyone is a bit concerned with their family’s financial as well as personal security. I guess this is a sign of our times.
But, through all of this I still watched the children dance around the adults playing games with each other and anxiously waiting for the night to turn winter into summer. They could care less about what the future has in store for them. They are only interested in the warm winds and possibilities of life on our seacoast.
I didn’t wear a flag on my lapel this year. I wore a couple of safety pins symbolizing a disdain for any and all types of bigotry. I was proud to display this symbol instead of wearing a symbol of nationalism. Many people asked what it meant and after I defined its meaning many gave me a questioning stare and squinted their eyes wondering if I was standing a bit apart from where all Americans were supposed to stand during these troubled times. I guess I was.
Most of our conversations centered around patriotism. Even though many of us are going through difficult financial times people are both proud and happy about our national situation. We were winning a war even though I have yet to understand who our enemy is. I am told this enemy has many faces. I respond by stating that in our past we have had many enemies who have evolved into becoming our friends. But, not these enemies. Because these enemies have no faces.
One of the more interesting conversations was with a gentleman I had never known before. He was one of the people who asked what my lapel pin meant. Our conversation evolved into a discussion of patriotism. He believed it was a wonderful thing and since our strike on Syria he has never been prouder to be an American. Because I had just finished my fifth or was it sixth beer I told him today’s patriotic spirit is worrying me a bit because it seems to be evolving into a form of nationalism. After taking a sip from his red wine he told me he did not see the difference.
I explained patriotism is the act of loving one’s country. Nationalism is a devotion to national interests, unity, and independence. Nationalism has a steadfast rule that one nation has to be above all others. After I told him this he still did not see a problem with being both patriotic and nationalistic. I reiterated that many nations in our world actually outlaw nationalism. Germany is one that actually makes it illegal to promote any symbol of nationalism in large forums. This nation remembers how the Nazi flag became the symbol of what all Germans were supposed to be. The Nazi flag became more important than Germany or its people.
I don’t know whether I convinced him of the difference but he did not talk with me for the rest of the evening. One young woman who must have overheard the conversation asked what I meant that I was concerned that nationalism was something to be wary of.
I explained our freedoms and our constitution were more important than any of our national symbols. I continued by stating I was afraid we are in the process of losing some of these freedoms because of a need to protect our nation instead of protecting the rights of our citizens. She asked me to give her some examples and since I just finished my 7th beer I did.
I began my explanation by quoting Attorney General John Aschroft. He states, “You can’t protect the Constitution and respect it without also protecting lives.” This statement concerns me because does it mean we have to alter our Constitution in order to protect our citizens?
Before the Patriot Act non-citizens were accorded the protections of citizens of our nation and if suspected of a crime had to be charged within 48 hours or released. Today they may be held for up to seven days without charges and detained indefinitely if deemed a threat to national security. Under President Trump’s military tribunal order, any noncitizen is subject to indefinite detention by military authorities.
Before the Patriot Act attorney-client communications were private, with a small exception if a judge found evidence of a crime being plotted. Today the Attorney General may authorize eavesdropping on communications between any detained person, including United States citizens, and the suspect’s lawyer, if the Attorney General suspects this meeting is being used to facilitate acts of violence. What makes this process more disturbing is that no court order is required.
Before the Patriot Act non-citizens accused of terrorism were tired in civilian courts following all the rules of Constitutional Law. Today, evidence may be kept secret from defense attorneys. There is no independent judge and no appeal, and proceedings may be conducted in secret and trials may be held offshore.
Before the Patriot Act probable cause was needed for search warrants and a suspect had to be notified. Today, secret searches are permissible without notice, the federal authorities have more power to track Internet activity and phone calls, and grand-jury testimony may be shared with federal agencies.
Looking at the young person in front of me I did not know whether she believed what I was saying was important or thought that I was some kind of anti-American radical. Hell, I probably bored her to death. I ended my conversation by explaining our Constitutional Freedoms were far more important than waving any flag. She smiled and left to find other conversations.
For my remaining time at the party I watched the children dance around the adults playing games with each other and anxiously waiting for their innocent present to evolve into a hopefully free future.