It seems we need to look at the definitions of some words that have been used recently, many of them emanating from the White House.
Patriot: A dictionary definition: “Those who love their country and zealously guard its welfare; especially a defender of liberty.”
The first part of the definition is difficult to fault, but patriots exist in many totalitarian countries that offer their citizens little or no liberty. Speaking out against one’s country in political matters is an almost surefire way to be imprisoned or even executed in too many countries.
Unfortunately, many people desire to suppress thoughts they disagree with even in our country, which guarantees peaceful freedom of speech. While our Constitution guarantees free speech, its architects wisely did not require dialogue to be true. After all, one person’s facts are another person’s lies or half-truths, both too commonly found not only in politics, but everyday life. Even given that the age-old saying “Truth is the first casualty of politics” regularly applies, President Donald Trump’s statement proclaiming, “The news media is the enemy of the American people,” should concern even his steadfast backers. That is speech expected of totalitarian dictators, not the president of the United States. Politicians have regularly gotten upset when criticized by the press, but calling the press an “enemy of the American people” is going overboard, way overboard, and is, in effect, calling the press unpatriotic.
Stephen Decatur, an American naval hero, made the following toast (circa 1816-1820): “Our country! In her intercourse with foreign nations may she always be in the right; but right or wrong, our country!”
A later revised and superior version is credited to Carl Shurz (1872): “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”
Those who love their country should peacefully protest when convinced it is on the wrong track. Patriots should be willing to defend their country if it is attacked, but patriotism does not require blind allegiance to any political declaration. Unthinking loyalty is not the path of the true patriot; it is the road of the partisan.
Partisan: One who supports a party or cause, especially an overly zealous adherent or devotee.
Partisans are found in all human activities, but politics is the focus of this column. Followers from both left and right are often guilty of “putting a spin on” or even totally ignoring facts, but they invariably criticize the opposition for similar shortcomings. Hypocrisy and politics are bedfellows. An age old but unfortunately appropriate phrase applies: “Don’t confuse me with the facts; my mind is made up.” That attitude is proof of a closed mind, aka a partisan. Even overwhelming evidence indicating they are wrong is ignored. They may describe opposing opinions as half-truths, lies or conspiracies. There should be no doubt conspiracies exist, but to find them in almost any opinion or decision not in agreement with one’s beliefs is ridiculous; conversely, blindly supporting everything “fitting” one’s opinions is preposterous, too. Heed Missouri’s unofficial slogan, the “Show me state.”
Expert: One who has special skill or knowledge.
Believing that a person is well educated in any subject or skilled in any activity must be infallible is a mistake. All of us have biases; preconceived notions can mislead even people attempting to be or believing they are objective. Well known experts regularly have opposing opinions. Therefore, “Prove it” is an appropriate response.
Traitor: One who betrays one’s country.
U.S. Code 2381 describes treason as follows: “Whoever, owing allegiance to the United States, levies war against them or adheres to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort within the United States or elsewhere, is guilty of treason and shall suffer death, or shall be imprisoned not less than five years and fined under this title but not less than $10,000; and shall be incapable of holding any office under the United States.”
The claim of treason was used against Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election, but it should be noted extreme carelessness does not even remotely meet the U.S. Code 2381 definition of traitor. Notably, Trump’s threat of prison for Clinton ended after the election.
Phony: Fake, false, counterfeit.
Phonies can be found in all human activities. P.T. Barnum allegedly said, “You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time.” Some, but not all people, quickly spot phonies. Be very wary when anyone says, “Trust me, I am not a crook,” or simply, “Trust me.” Such statements are a strong warning to be skeptical. Phonies, possibly because they may fear being revealed as counterfeits, are over sensitive, reliably responding to criticisms with phrases such as “fake news” or “witch hunt” or, to the delight of conspiracy lovers, blame the “Deep State,” a make-believe group of government employees Trump dreamt up, which, according to him, is intent on destroying his presidency.
Some believe Trump is destroying his presidency all by himself.
Ted Shannon is a Mokelumne Hill resident and retired California Highway Patrol officer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.