So yesterday I saw this bumper sticker. It was one which I think I have seen before, but which I only really thought about for the first time right then. It ran like this:
I LOVE MY COUNTRY
But I Fear my Government
Now to be fair, if I saw this bumper sticker at any point between January 2001 and January 2009, I probably would have agreed with it, and left it behind. But now I can see a certain logical fallacy to it, one which was just as fallacious when the Great Pretender was in the White House as it is now. Let me try and break it down.
"I love my country" is a pretty straightforward seeming statement. So is "I fear my government." But unless the former is referring to the terrain, or the latter is referring to a dictatorship, then there is a disconnect here. Because unless our democracy has completely failed (and I do not believe it has), then the government is a direct creation of, a manifestation of, the American People. The Government has no meaning, definition, or direction apart from what "my country" bestows on it.
So to feel differently about "my country" than about "my government" is a logical impossibility. But (to quote the great Ulysses Everett McGill) "it's fool that looks for logic in the chambers of human heart." And experience teaches us that love and fear are not mutually exclusive things. One possible reading of this bumper sticker is that the driver in question both loves and fears his fellow Americans. That's a generous reading. Personally I doubt that this person and I would feel much love for each other.
Another, more difficult, and maybe more disturbing reading is this: if this person and I—or any two people who agreed with the statement "I love my country"— made a list of the qualities that make America lovable, admirable, or great, the chances are pretty good that we find disagreement. We would not list all the same things, and when we did, we might well find that we mean different, even opposing, things by them. The "my" in "I love my country" reveals that it is paramount: "I love my version, my vision, my aspirations for, my country." The government, consisting of hundreds of elected and appointed officials and magistrates, inevitably, is forced to cobble a collective vision out of all these disparate American dreams. This vision of our country can never embrace all the individual dreams of its citizens. But when we try to place the my over the our, because of ideology (I really believe that single payer is best), or prejudice (I don't like motorcyclists), or selfishness (I don't really want to pay more taxes), I think we show that we do not love our country as we should. After all, in a romantic relationship, if we always put our own fantasies about our beloveds ahead of his or her actual qualities and desires, we would not be very good lovers. To be good lovers of our country, we need to work on our relationship with the whole as it is, and not our private fantasies about what the country (or its government) should be. And this is just as true for a liberal like me as it is for any Tea Party wing nut.