Superpatriotism by Michael Parenti (San Francisco: City Lights Books, 2004, 160 paages)


Try
to imagine the brainstorming session it took to satisfy the acronym,
“USA PATRIOT Act.” The solution: “Uniting and Strengt-
hening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept
and Obstruct Terrorism Act,” is not only cumbersome, it assigns
the “patriotism” label to those who support the squashing
of civil rights. The subliminal influence of this paradox manifests
itself in that vociferous breed of human often heard suggesting
that critics of U.S. policies should either pipe down or leave the
country. 

Michael
Parenti identifies this phenomenon as “the readiness to follow
national leaders unquestioningly in their dealings with other countries,
especially in confrontations involving military force.” He
calls this trend “superpatriotism.” 

Superpatriotism
(the book) is, at essence, a how-to-manual. “It seems that
the America our super- patriots claim to love is neither a geographical
or demographic totality, nor a cultural heritage as such, nor really
a land of such unlimited freedom and economic opportunity and prosperity,”
Parenti writes. “The superpatriot’s America is a simplified
ideological abstraction, an emotive symbol represented by other
abstract symbols like the flag. It is the object of a faithlike
devotion, unencumbered by honest history.” 

When
stated that way, it appears astonishingly transparent. But place
it within the context of a white supremacist capitalist patriarchy
like the USA and things get a bit more complicated. Parenti has
spent his life trying to de-complicate such matters and this book
is a crowning achievement in demystification. 

“For
the superpatriot,” he explains, “those who do not share
in this uncritical Americanism ought to go live in some other country.”
We’ve all faced that one: “Don’t you love your country?”
“If you hate America so much, why live here?” “Love
it or leave it.” “My country: right or wrong.” As
President George H.W. Bush once intoned, “I will never apologize
for the United States of America. I don’t care what the facts
are.” 

Superpatriotism
breaks down the “reasoning” behind such dogma and in the
process dismantles the facile arguments and declarations of those
who have hijacked the concept of patriotism. With a familiar blend
of outrage and humor, Parenti provides the insights and the facts
one needs when responding to emotional rebuttals like those above
and those being bandied about more than ever since 9/11. He offers
precisely the kind of information that could prevent a debate from
turning into a personal quarrel…especially, as Parenti explains,
when “the protestors are made the issue instead of the policies
they are protesting.” 

Even
the most seasoned dissident can wilt under the pressure of being
labeled “anti-American.” Even a critic armed with facts
and figures may be drawn into a battle of personalities that distracts
from the issues that spawned it. Parenti counters: “We critics
of U.S. policy are not directing our protests against that entity
known as America but against particular U.S. leaders who, we feel,
do not represent the interests of the American people or any other
people, but who advance the goals of a privileged coterie. 

“Presumably,”
says Parenti, “we should show gratitude for our freedom to
dissent by refraining from dissenting; and if we speak freely and
critically we are proving ourselves ungrateful and therefore unworthy
of the right to speak. 

“It
seems,” he concludes, “we ‘abuse’ our rights
by simply using them.” 

With
chapters that address topics like religion, sports, the military,
and the omnipresent  “We’re number one” mentality,
Superpatriotism is clearly the product of many years of dealing
with all angles of U.S. society—and the influences that have
corrupted it to the point where our level of patriotism is judged
by our level of obedience. 

“If
the test of patriotism comes only by reflexively falling into lockstep
behind the leader whenever the flag is waved,” Parenti declares,
“then what we have is a formula for dictatorship, not demo-
cracy.” 

In
our upside-down world of ever-evolving word definitions, Michael
Parenti’s Superpatriotism points us in the direction
of truth, justice, and a far more equitable “American Way.”


Mickey Z. is
the author of four books, most recently:
The Seven Deadly
Spins: Exposing the Lies Behind War Propaganda (Common Courage
Press).