Today’s “must read” op-ed is about America and patriotism

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Be sure to check out News & Observer contributing columnist Eric Johnson’s fine essay in today’s N&O, which is entitled “A patriotic talk about structural racism? It happened here.” As Johnson thoughtfully explains, there’s a myth that’s developed (and been promoted ) on the political right that those who want to engage in an honest discussion of American history — including its many deep flaws — are somehow unpatriotic and seeking to undermine the country.

Not at all true, says Johnson.

Johnson relates hearing a recent talk at a Raleigh bookstore by a retired Navy commander-turned author named Theodore Roosevelt Johnson (no relation) who explained with great insight why looking critically at our nation’s flaws — particularly where it comes to issues of race — is a form a high patriotism:

“There’s been no nation in world history that has accomplished what we’re trying to accomplish,” Johnson said to a hometown audience of friends, family, and curious readers. “I can be fully Black and fully American in the same breath. That is the fullness of the American idea.”

You can also be a patriot and still embrace the fullness of American history. Johnson believes one of the keys to realizing our country’s founding vision — the radical idea that all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights — is understanding how our governing institutions have been warped by a long history of racial division.

His new book, When the Stars Fall: Overcoming Racism and Renewing the Promise of America, is a call for reforming those institutions, for tackling systemic racism as an urgent threat to the core promise of our country. If we recognize racial division as not just a matter of individual hearts and minds but something deeply rooted in policy, that actually makes the path forward easier. Fixing those policy failures is an act of devoted citizenship, a way of strengthening national solidarity by working toward a more perfect union.

In his talk, T.R. Johnson also cited approvingly the recent congressional testimony delivered by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, who neatly put Trump loyalist congressman Mattthew Gaetz in his place during a discussion of Critical Race Theory. As Milley observed, the U.S. Military Academy is  a great university and it’s the that university’s duty to teach students the truth about American history. Here’s Milley:

“I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read … and it is important that we train and we understand,” Milley said. “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white.”

“I do think it’s important, actually, for those of us in uniform to be open-minded and be widely read … and it is important that we train and we understand,” Milley said. “I want to understand white rage, and I’m white.”

Eric Johnson closes his essay on this optimistic note:

It will take many more curious minds to form what Johnson calls “bonds of solidarity” with our fellow Americans. Too often, he writes, we are simply “democratic strangers,” occupying the same country without taking the time to really know one another. The work of reform and renewal should be an opportunity to meet. “We don’t have to burn the institutions of society to the ground,” Johnson said. “But if you don’t talk to the people you’re angry with, the rage just deepens.”

Rage can be seductive. It feels righteous, clarifying, simple. But it is also at odds with our national character. “It’s inherently American to be optimistic, to believe that tomorrow will be better than today,” Johnson said. “It’s not inevitable. But we can have the country we want.”

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