As the weeks go by, my hope for our nation in the upcoming presidential election is steadily eroding. We’ve narrowed the race down to two people who are known to lie and manipulate events for their own gain; one of them is, in my opinion, of significantly worse character and far more dangerous as a leader, but I honestly would rather have neither of them. I suppose the difference for me is that while I can find some things to respect about Clinton, despite my utter disagreement with her on abortion, I haven’t been able to find anything to respect about Trump. Being rich and marrying attractive women, his sole accomplishments in life, are not particularly worthy of respect in my opinion…
And the thought of Trump winning the presidency and representing my country on the global stage makes me blush with shame – to the point where I am tempted to abandon my country, flee somewhere else, attempt to build a new identity and integrate into a different nation, one that actually valued honesty, self-control, responsibility, and community. But these words keep coming back to me, the words of G.K. Chesterton that I’m sure I’ve quoted before:
My acceptance of the universe is not optimism, it is more like patriotism. It is a matter of primary loyalty. The world is not a lodging-house at Brighton, which we are to leave because it is miserable. It is the fortress of our family, with the flag flying on the turret, and the more miserable it is the less we should leave it. The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more. All optimistic thoughts about England and all pessimistic thoughts about her are alike reasons for the English patriot. Similarly, optimism and pessimism are alike arguments for the cosmic patriot.
Let us suppose we are confronted with a desperate thing—say Pimlico. If we think what is really best for Pimlico we shall find the thread of thought leads to the throne or the mystic and the arbitrary. It is not enough for a man to disapprove of Pimlico: in that case he will merely cut his throat or move to Chelsea. Nor, certainly, is it enough for a man to approve of Pimlico: for then it will remain Pimlico, which would be awful. The only way out of it seems to be for somebody to love Pimlico: to love it with a transcendental tie and without any earthly reason. If there arose a man who loved Pimlico, then Pimlico would rise into ivory towers and golden pinnacles; Pimlico would attire herself as a woman does when she is loved… If men loved Pimlico as mothers love children, arbitrarily, because it is theirs, Pimlico in a year or two might be fairer than Florence. Some readers will say that this is a mere fantasy. I answer that this is the actual history of mankind. This, as a fact, is how cities did grow great. Go back to the darkest roots of civilization and you will find them knotted round some sacred stone or encircling some sacred well. People first paid honour to a spot and afterwards gained glory for it. Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.
– G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy
What our country needs is not for us to wring our hands in fear, or throw them up in dismay, or give up in despair; what she needs is for us to love her and to labor for her restoration and beauty. It is a harder and a more painful task, especially when faced with the anger and resentment of so many who don’t love their country or their communities, but a necessary one if true and worthwhile change is to take place. And this is where the virtue of patriotism lies, not in praising our country or her leadership no matter what poor choices are made, but in loving her enough to care about even the poorest and least likable of her people, to make right the things that are broken and rotting in her systems and communities, to see both her beauties and her flaws and admire the one while acknowledging and working to change the other.