What with another patriotic holiday just around the corner, Id like to pause a moment to recognize the Great American Slogan and Motto. We love em. Over time, this country has amassed more hook lines than a Carolina catfish contest. We just love em.
Advertisers use em. (Will there ever be a snarkier beer come-on than Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World?) Churches use em. (My current favorite pitch from the pinky-ringed crowd is, Church: You Should Try It; Its Not as Bad as You Think!) And God knows, politicians use em. (That Maverick and Rogue crap veritably pales in comparison to Kinky Friedmans epic, cheeky ramp-up for Governor of the Lone Star State: Kinky Friedman for Governor Why the Hell Not?)
On a more serious note, history is reflected in the weightier hooks we adopt; Im no advocate for Jungian archetypes, but I submit that the slogans and mottos that stick to the wall of the ad agencies and think tanks say a little something about who we are. I know that serious historians out there might disagree (hey, what are you doing reading me, anyway?) but I think that one of the best ways to understand this wacky Manifest Destiny of a country is to consider some of our more famous catch phrases:
No Taxation without Representation
In God We Trust
Remember the Alamo
A Chicken in Every Pot
What If They Threw a War, and Nobody Came
Read My Lips: No New Taxes
Just Say No
Yes, We Can
Yep, thats us being us: rebellion; faith; revenge; optimism; protest; deceit; superficiality; resolve. Pithy, catchy, timely slogans and mottos that just seem to snap up the zeitgeist of a time or event, and preserve it in our collective unconscious. Just a few more:
Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death
Loose Lips Sink Ships
The Buck Stops Here
Better Dead than Red
I Am Not a Crook
Make Love, Not War
Keep Hope Alive
God Hates Fags
This time, its: courage; caution; responsibility; fear; more deceit; dreams; hope; yet more deceit; hatred. Man, there we are, described in our own rhetorically conflicted splendor!
Mottos and slogans sometimes attest to the best in us, but they also have a way of revealing the shadow side of our national nature commercial, religious and political hooks that go viral in absolutely toxic ways. For my money, the still-reigning king of Us/Them, uranium-grade political sloganeering is the venerable, America: Love It or Leave It. That mantra of the Hard Right has served well its mostly Republican faithful. It is the smooth stone for when the facts start mucking up the party line. It is the ultimate insult for one who dares hold this country accountable for being what it is despite what it could be.
One of the distinguishing features of classic liberalism, be it political, social or religious, is the moral imperative to critique what passes for truth before declaring it as such. To use a theological term, at its best, the progressive way is to name and resist idolatry. Done well, liberalism is a lovers quarrel with ones own tribe in the form of a nation. It is patriotism divorced from bald and dysfunctional inertia. It is the polar opposite of love or leave.
So, as we gear up for another Memorial Day trashing of legitimate and sorely lacking dissention, the more dismissive of our right-leaning fellow citizens will just have to cut us some slack if we dont don Stars-N-Stripes ties or tear up as fighters streak over the ballpark; we need not apologize for wanting to make this a better country. It is our birthright to question and probe and hold our nation to higher standards, loving but not always liking what we discover.
Which leads me to a venerable old motto from Sinclair Lewis: I Love America, But I Dont Like It. Were a nation fairly smitten with slogans and mottos. Some of them even make sense.
Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email email@example.com.
From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2010
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