Why the ‘Loyalty Day’ Declaration Is a Good Thing

On yesterday’s first day of May, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-sixth, President Barack Obama has in one of his more strikingly Bushian moments (of which there are many) declared “Loyalty Day” as a national holiday to be celebrated annually.

Now, at first glance, this seems fairly innocuous.  The press release drops a lot of distinctively American, feel-good rhetoric — “Founders,” “Constitution,” “liberty, equality, and justice” — these are things which, by and large, we all like.  To observe Loyalty Day, we are encouraged to display an American flag or say the Pledge of Allegiance, presumably while pondering the principles and history the release discusses.

And yet — Loyalty Day is hands down disturbing, but I’m glad this declaration is getting so much attention.

You see, as it turns out, Loyalty Day isn’t a brand new thing, though you might get that impression from the White House press release.  It’s been around for decades, and most recent Presidents have made one declaration about it over the course of their time in office.  But, whether because ofgrowing cynicism in American politics or thanks to the GOP’s short-term memory loss in its opposition to Barack Obama, this particular declaration seems to be sparking more outrage.  Here’s why that makes the declaration, though not the holiday, a good thing:

1. That press release could have been written by Glenn Beck at the height of an on-air frenzy, but it was released by the Obama White House.  The tone has every bit of the most concerning strain of red-state genuflection before the military and other “patriotic” aspects of our government and history, but it isn’t a red-state document.  It demonstrates the equal willingness of both sides of the aisle to play on emotion — on love of country and pride in history — to advance uncritical allegiance to the state. Honestly, I couldn’t have written a better exemplar of why “it’s not left vs. right; it’s the state vs. you” (as the sage philosopher Bumper Sticker puts it) if I’d sneaked into the Oval Office Monday night and typed it up myself.  

2. Even if their initial objection stems only from partisanship, the distaste this proclamation has produced in people can’t help but cause some thought about why it is so objectionable.  Why is a holiday described in extremely positive terms so off-putting?  Why does this discussion of “liberty, equality, and justice” seem so inimical to those very concepts?  Why do we feel a sort of vague discomfort at the idea that the government seeks a little extra assurance that we support it?  These are questions which some might not ask aside from the first visceral reaction which Loyalty Day seems to be producing in so many.  The stated purpose of Loyalty Day might be “a special day for the reaffirmation of loyalty to the United States and for the recognition of the heritage of American freedom,” but this year, at least, it’s turning out to be more of a special day for considering why it’s so damn creepy that the government wants this reaffirmation and how that same government is so thoroughly ignoring that heritage of freedom.

3. Finally, Loyalty Day casts the government in its most honest light:  jealous and abusive.  Not to get too fanciful here, but as Wes Messamore has so ably pointed out, our relationship with our government has all the markings which in an interpersonal relationship would signal abuse.  Take just one of his ten examples and be sure to read the rest):

Do you feel nervous around your partner?

Be honest — even if you’re a perfectly law-abiding citizen, do you feel nervous around police officers? Even when you’re driving the speed limit and obeying traffic laws in a car for which you have a valid license, deed, and registration, do you feel nervous when a police car is driving behind you or pulls up next to you on a city road or freeway? Do you feel nervous when you’re going through TSA checkpoints at the airport even though you have no prohibited items in your baggage and have no intention of doing anything disruptive, violent, or illegal? Have you ever wondered why you should feel that way when you “have nothing to hide” as the police say?

Loyalty Day is the national equivalent of an abusive partner asking you to “prove your love for them” — and just like it wouldn’t be right then, it’s not right now.

As I’ve written before, I don’t say the Pledge of Allegiance for religious, philosophical, and gastronomical reasons, so perhaps I’m uniquely predisposed to objecting to this holiday.  But on Loyalty Day 2012, I’m not alone in my objections — and that’s a good thing.

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