One thing I find interesting is language used by different groups to address their members. For the purposes of keeping my thumb on the pulse of what’s going on with various political campaigns, I subscribe to their mailing lists.
One observation that I’ve made is the emails coming from Conservatives almost always begin with the salutation “Dear Patriot.” Surely members of other political groups consider themselves as lovers of country, so why do Conservatives feel the need to bring up the word patriot in every communication to their base?
The generally accepted definition of the word patriot points to one who is a lover and supporter of their country. If you take a look at the etymology of the word, you’ll see that the origin of the modern word patriot can be traced back to the word compatriot, which meant “fellow countryman” from the land of one’s father. The term was generally accepted in the late 1500s as meaning a supporter of one’s country.
Interestingly, however, by the mid 1700s in England, the term patriot took on another definition–it was used to describe a dissenter, whose aim was to “disturb” the government. When you consider that the Revolutionary War took place around that time, it isn’t difficult to see that the people being called patriots back then were those in the United States seeking independence from European rule.
The Mel Gibson movie, “The Patriot,” told the story of one such patriot and his experiences with the king’s army.
So, when we consider the first patriots in the United States, in large part, we’re talking about people whose value set included the use of free labor in the form of African slaves to create and drive their economy. We’re talking about people who wanted to liberate themselves from the European class system, only to form their own system of class that would be more advantageous to them. Dukes, lords, and sirs were replaced by different classes of social and economic standing–same system, different labels.
By the time of the Civil War, the spirit of the patriot was seen in the ideology of wealthy, white male landowners who were dissenters against the idea of a president they viewed as an abolitionist–Abraham Lincoln. The decision of states to secede from the Union had everything to do with perpetuating the economical and social class system that free slave labor afforded the South. It was about money and power, and the Southern patriots felt that they had already given up enough money and power with previous compromises over slavery (Three-Fifths Compromise–1787, the Missouri Compromise–1820, Compromise of 1850, Kansas Nebraska Act–1856, Dred Scott Decision–1857, and the Raid at Harpers Ferry–1859). Of course, we all know that the slaves were eventually freed, only to face other oppression in the form of Jim Crow Laws and other racial prejudice in the South.
By the time of the Civil Rights Era, the Southern patriots were the ones who fought to maintain segregation from Blacks and other laws of oppression. Just yesterday, Heit and I were watching Eye on the Prize, and I was reminded of the politics involved in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. For the working class of whites, all they had was being able to say that the niggers had to give up a seat to them. This is why they fought so hard to keep the buses and other places segregated.
The battle has never been between the upper class/elites and Blacks, or Latinos, or poor people. It’s always been beween that lowest class of whites who viewed themselves just above the Black and brown people. Throughout the years, they have fought the hardest to maintain privilege above those whom they viewed as beneath them.
And this brings me back to the use of the word patriots by modern era Conservatives. Conservatives’ use of the term patriot doesn’t mean someone who loves and supports their country. The widespread use of the word patriot in the wake of national tragedies like 9/11 allows them to openly use a word whose meaning, in their context, is not the same as the generally accepted definition of patriot–someone who loves and supports their country. When Conservatives use the word patriot in addressing each other, they mean patriot in the historical sense, as I outlined above–they mean a specific group of people who dissent against the prevailing attitudes of the country. More specifically, they are energizing their base by reminding them of the loss of all the power, class, and economic stature they believe is theirs by birthright alone.
These patriots are contrary to the idea of a Black president, and they are contrary to Latinos receiving what they feel is theirs–the right to social and economic prosperity–earned by birthright alone. When they talk about bring back the “good ‘ole days,” what they really mean is bringing back the days when the footing of their class was more secure.
The point is when you hear Conservatives say, “Dear patriot,” or other similar salutations, it’s not nearly as innocent as it sounds to the ear.