Have you seen the most recent discharge from WalletHub? (I am NOT calling it “news.”) Apparently, according to their latest Ranking of Things That Don’t Need To Be Ranked, the #1 most patriotic state in the country is Virginia! Yay for Virginians! Clap clap clap clap. Maine is sixth, New Hampshire eighth. Well done, neighbors! New Jersey is wayyyyyy down there at 49. Oops. Coming in dead last? You guessed it: New York State! Yep, fellow Empire occupants, we are THE least-patriotic Americans in the land.
In case you’re curious, and of course you are, the WalletHub methodology took into account military enlistments; veterans per capita (New York is 50th); Peace Corps volunteers; percentage of people who voted in the last election (46th); and volunteer rate (49th). I don’t aim to pick this apart nit by nit, but two thoughts. 1) Aren’t Peace Corps volunteers sort of, I don’t know, globally minded? Not that there’s anything wrong with that. And 2) Isn’t it possible that New York boasts a lower rate of election participation because it’s home to so many recent immigrants who can’t yet vote? Who come here because they love the spirit and principles of this country and want to make themselves a part of it? Isn’t that patriotism, too?
Beyond that, the list cracks me up. When it doesn’t make me cry. I’m exaggerating; it does neither. Instead, it makes me slap my little wormy-squirmy un-American hand (which is free because it’s not waving a flag) against my pasty forehead at this simplistic definition of patriotism. Guess what, O Wise Ones at WalletHub: Just because I never enlisted in the military or fought in a war doesn’t mean I don’t love my country. And just because cranky-ass New Yorkers complain a heck of a lot more than people from other states doesn’t mean we’re not happy to be in this big, bubbling pot o’ diversity that we’re grateful to call home.
Yesterday, driving back from the Women’s World Cup in Montreal, I pulled up with my son at the border and readied our passports for inspection. Looking out at those gigantic capital letters proclaiming UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, I felt a shiver of thanksgiving.
You know, I said to my kid. You know, I love my country.
“Me, too,” he said.
As much as I complain about its screw-ups, I love it, I said. And you know why? Because here we’re ALLOWED to screw up. That’s the whole idea. We can be stupid and wrong-headed. We can make mistakes and stumble forward. That’s the beauty of it.
“Yeah. We get to vote. There are countries where people can’t. And we can say what we want about anyone, even the president.”
And not get arrested. And not get killed.
“And not get arrested. And not get killed,” he agreed.
I thought about this some more. About checks and balances, and Congress and SCOTUS, and the arguments over gay marriage and Obamacare that probably didn’t just end. Arguments never end in this country. We are, all of us, always free to get into a lather over anything we like. To speak out against injustice, however we define it. To be utter disagreeable ding-dongs. To bump the country in this direction, then that direction, then maybe the wrong direction without some patriarchal, dictatorial hand swooping in to save us. To have faith that we’ll right ourselves, sometime.
I remember my mother talking about this — the genius of America being just this openness to making a hash out of things. “Democracy is messy,” she used to say. This is what the Russians failed to realize after the collapse of the Soviet Union. This business of freedom isn’t easy. It isn’t perfect. You can’t just shut people up. I love my country precisely because it’s as complicated, imperfect and loud-mouthed as everyone who’s lucky enough to be here.
And think about it: which state is more complicated, less perfect and louder than New York? I love my country, and I rest my case.