Fireworks last night in Richmond, which sponsors a convivial gathering every July third. There’s a great view of the display from the lawn across from my apartment. A cover-band version of “Street Fighting Man” wafted through the window, then an announcer’s voice saying, “Fireworks in fifteen minutes.” “Why July third?” someone asked as we found a spot on the lawn. It seemed vaguely disloyal to celebrate independence a day before everyone else.
I’ve been having a lot of conversations about loyalty lately. In online dating world, quite a few men list it as a desirable quality. In politics, it’s more powerful than a buzzword. In the blog on patriotism he published today, Robert Reich needed the word twice in the same pivotal sentence: “…some elected officials have substituted partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America.” But as a concept, I just can’t get my arms around it.
To me, loyalty is what enters in when caring and compassion exit the building. If I care for a loved one, I want to express that caring through acts of kindness. Even if I don’t have a deeply rooted relationship with someone in need, compassion for that person’s suffering can activate the Golden Rule, leading me to extend caring as part of the warp and woof of a humane community. In contrast, loyalty is duty, a promise to act as if one cared, even in caring’s absence. The essence of loyalty is encoded in that quintessential patriotic declaration, “my country, right or wrong.”
The opposite of loyalty is betrayal, which seems much more sharply focused. The men who prize loyalty in a prospective partner have chosen that word because they’ve been hurt and don’t want to repeat the experience. The underlying feeling of betrayal is this: I thought you cared for me, but now you have done this terrible thing to me! I trusted you, and you betrayed me.
Yet I think about the times I’ve had that feeling, and ask myself whether I wish my betrayer had restrained the impluse out of loyalty to our relationship. My mind tries on a “yes” answer, then rejects it. In retrospect, at least, I would prefer to know the true measure of a person than to have it masked by a sense of loyalty. I have a hunch that loyalty only goes so far: if all the little betrayals are suppressed out of duty, the big one, when it comes, is bound to land with an especially hard thud.
Reich’s blog post contrasts me-first patriotism—jingoism, chauvinism, circle-the-wagons-ism—with “joining together for the common good.” This is a fine thing, but it isn’t actually a specific attribute of patriotism. Joining together for the common good can be the underlying purpose of friendship, family, community, and international cooperation just as much as a nation-state, whereas patriotism is loyalty to a country (to be true to the word’s roots, a fatherland).
I have all of the experiences and patriotic associations an American public school education implanted in my generation: the Declaration of Independence and Constitution bring tears to my eyes. I am in awe of those who have worked to make democracy real, doggedly winning human rights that are perpetually vulnerable to loss. In grade school, I learned the words to the national anthem and a passel of other such songs (“Columbia, The Gem of The Ocean,” anyone?). In high school, I got in trouble for refusing to salute the flag and participate in bomb drills. I am an American; or if you object to that locution, a citizen of the United States. But I am also one of that species certain patriots despise above all others: a cosmopolitan, a citizen of the world. Dictators distrust us; white supremacists detest us; and I say this: by their enemies, you shall know them.
With much fanfare and cross-promotion, HBO unveiled the new TV series by Aaron Sorkin, creator of “The West Wing.” I don’t have HBO, but “The Newsroom” pilot has been widely available online for free. MoveOn.org is promoting a clip from the pilot in which a student asks a panel of media spokespeople, “What makes America the greatest country in the world?” Jeff Daniels, playing a burnt-out news anchor, overcomes his impulse to dissemble to offer an eloquent rant on why it’s not and how it could be. Like “The West Wing,” the program makes you long for the world in which the people making decisions about the most important issues facing this country were as smart, well-informed, and eloquent as the somewhat implausible characters Sorkin creates. (I enjoy that fantasy, so I definitely want to see the rest of the episodes: care to share?)
If we have compassion and integrity, loyalty is superfluous at best, and at worst, destructive, leading people to do things that go against their deepest convictions. Give me awareness, presence, the capacity to love, the desire to enact that capacity. And to feed the red, white, and blues, give me that quintessential Fourth of July dessert, shortcake.
Red, White, and Blue Shortcake
This is the real thing, with a shortcake base that resembles a biscuit. The amounts of berries and cream are up to you, but for six people, you’ll need at least two baskets of red berries and one of blue, and a pint of whipping cream for topping.
Strawberries, red raspberries, or a mixture of both
Blueberries, half as many or fewer
Sugar and/or sugar substitute
Cut large strawberries into chunky slices, small ones in half. Place the red berries in a bowl with a spoonful of sugar, and stir vigorously until the juices start to flow. Mash a little if you like. Taste for sweetness, and depending on your proclivities, add more sugar, stevia, or another sweetener. (At least one spoonful of sugar is needed to macerate the berries, though, or they won’t give up their juices.) Just before serving, gently stir in the blueberries, so they don’t burst and lose their color.
In a chilled bowl with chilled beaters, whip the cream until it begins to hold soft peaks. Stir in a spoonful of powdered sugar and taste for sweetness, adding more if needed. Keep whipping until the peaks are firm. At the last minute, for a patriotic high note, beat in a couple of tablespoons of bourbon.
2 cups flour (white, whole wheat pastry flour, or a mixture; you can substitute other flours too)
1 Tablespoon baking powder
dash of salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
3/4 to 1 cup heavy cream
2 Tablespoons melted butter
Butter a cookie sheet, and preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Mix the flour with the baking powder, salt, and sugar. Mix in enough heavy cream to make a soft dough. Don’t over-knead, just combine. Divide the dough into unequal portions, one-third and two-thirds. Roll the larger piece of dough into a circle about 8 inches in diameter and place it on the cookie sheet. Baste the top of it with melted butter. Roll the smaller piece into a slightly smaller circle and center it on the larger piece. Brush the top with butter. Bake about 15 minutes, until golden brown.
Let cool just a few minutes and transfer to a plate. Carefully pry off the top layer. Spoon berries over the bottom layer. Replace the top, top with whipped cream, and drizzle with more berries. Cut into wedges to serve.
(If you prefer, you can divide the dough into smaller portions and make individual shortcakes instead of one big shortcake.)
Paul Simon based “American Tune” on a passage from Bach’s St. Matthew Passion; I was looking for a clip of the Yiddish version sung by Mandy Patinkin, but no luck. Still, the Indigo Girls version will make my cosmpolitan point. To independence from tyranny in all forms!
I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered
I don’t have a friend feels who at ease
I don’t know a dream thats not been shattered
Or driven to its knees.
Oh, but it’s all right
It’s all right
We’ve lived so well so long.
Still when I think of the road were traveling on
I wonder what’s gone wrong
I can’t help it I wonder
What’s gone wrong.