My great-great-great-great grandfather fought at the Alamo. No, he didn’t go down fighting with Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie, William Travis and the others. He was a sergeant with the Tampico regiment under General Antonio López de Santa Anna and he fought for the other side. His name was Santiago Rabia (ca. 1804 – ca. 1853). Had he not fought for the other side I probably wouldn’t be here to tell you about him. The part of his procreating life that matters to me began ten years after the 13 day siege of the Alamo, when he fathered (check my genealogical math here) my grandfather’s maternal great grandfather.
I don’t doubt that Sargeant Rabia fought for a cause that he considered both patriotic and just. After all, he was protecting the sacred sovereignty of his adoptive country (he was born in Spain) against foreign interlopers. Much of the Mexican land that the Republic of Texas claimed for itself was frankly stolen. Some ten years later, in 1846, President James K. Polk put the official impermatur of the United States on that theft with Machiavellian malice aforethought by provoking the Mexican War. The motive for the theft was greed, selfishness and the dubious bragging rights of imperialism.
This story, a part of my family lore that has been easily confirmed by genealogy, has for much of my life served to remind me that the idea of patriotism is a slippery one. The notion that there are sometimes two sides to every story must be deep in my DNA. It has caused me many times to reflect on the question of when is patriotism a good thing and when is it not.
I have even sometimes come to the conclusion that patriotism is always bad. That flies in the face of the goosebumps I occasionally get when I hear America’s national anthem, or when the good guys get elected, or when our current President does or says something noble. It’s an internal struggle that I don’t always know what to do with. Like all Homo Sapiens I am often inconsistent.
I do think that patriotism as a mechanism for survival must by necessity become an extinct human trait if we are to evolve. Just as most parents indulge in the silly and easy to disprove notion that their child is the greatest child on earth, we Americans often mistakenly think we live in the greatest country in the world and that our cause is the greatest cause. Somewhere in that mix of emotions lies the obvious truth that everyone thinks that way, and by what logical process do we get to claim primacy over everyone else? What makes us so special?
But I will be the first to agree there are not always two sides to every story. That is to say, the other story isn’t always worthy of a hearing. Sorry, but I am not willing to give Nazis a fair trial. They are to be dismissed out of hand and rejected as a plausible side worthy of their day in court. But then, Nazis are what happens when patriotism ventures into jingoism and love of country becomes confused with the cult of personality.
That is why I see Republicans as evil without my having to resort to any unnecessary patriotic rationale. There isn’t a side to argue. They have squandered their right to a fair trial by ceding their rational minds to the whim of a psychopath named Donald Trump.
But unlike with Nazism, which officially died on April 30, 1945, and where any future instantiation became by necessity “neo-Nazism,” Republicans will remain Republicans even after the death of Donald Trump. Their goals and methods will remain unchanged. Trump was just a passing symbol they hitched their wagons to. We know this because so many of his most apparently ardent followers used to be his most vocal detractors before he became the Republican nominee and then president of the United States. After that his erstwhile critics magically saw the wisdom, the correctness, the patriotic righteousness of backing Trump.
Republicans like to use jingoistic symbols, such as the Alamo, as sheep’s clothing to disguise their true intentions. Having literal skin in the Alamo game, I see through stuff like that right away. I think we can be patriotic for now, but we must always keep in the back of our minds that there is a higher truth than party and country, and that one day, if we are to survive, we must shed our provincial ways in favor of a united people and a shared planet. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.