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News & Press: WIPP President's Column

WIPP Works in Washington: Redefining Patriotism

Tuesday, July 5, 2016  
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WIPP Works in Washington


Redefining Patriotism

By Ann Sullivan, WIPP’s Chief Advocate


Recently, my family attended a Nationals game that just happened to be the night the Nats honor the US Army. A general threw out the first pitch, the Army Secretary handed the ball to the pitcher and the whole stadium stood in silence to hear the Army Singing Sergeants sing the “Star Spangled Banner” and watch the presentation of the Colors.  Soldiers in crisp military dress lined the field in rows straighter than mere mortals could ever replicate. This show of patriotism never gets old.  It serves to remind us of the respect we have for our country and those who defend it.


But there is a different kind of patriotism that, while not as showy, happens in business meetings and dinner tables. Take for example, the session at the WBENC conference in Orlando a few weeks ago sponsored by WIPP/WE Decide 2016. For an hour and a half, we went over the Presidential and Congressional elections. We talked about what candidates were or were not saying and how the business community has been largely left on the sidelines. The participants in the room did not know each other but started coming up with ideas on how to change party rules, gerrymandered Districts and making a difference in upcoming elections. Yes, we talked about politics without getting snarky. Long after I finished presenting, groups of people around tables kept the discussion going. That’s patriotism.


Polls suggest that politics is “off the table” right now. The Presidential election survey data show that the majority of voters in the Republican Party choose “someone else” instead of their presumptive nominee. And the one segment (those that held no degrees) that selected Trump did so with the slightest of margins. On the Democratic side, the news isn’t much better. According to Public Policy Polling, Clinton's favorability is 39/54, and Trump is even worse off at 35/58.


Congressional candidates don’t fare much better. As of June, 80% of the voters surveyed by Gallop disapprove of the job Congress is doing, but yet a very high percentage of incumbents will return to Congress. That means to me that voter apathy has put discussion of policies and politics “off the table.”


The definition of patriotism is “love or devotion to one’s country.” That’s what the room of people at the WBENC session were expressing while talking about change. Sure waving a flag can denote love for the USA, but so does engaging in the political process. It can be as simple as casting a vote or canvassing for the candidate you support. It can mean being a delegate to the Democratic or Republican national convention or looking into your state’s decision-making, which determines the electoral map. An interesting resource in figuring that one out is run by a professor at Loyola Law School – All About Redistricting—Who Draws the Lines”.


Promoting change is patriotic. So, why don’t we get back to discussing economic issues with our friends, family and colleagues? Discussions centered on solving problems in our country should be on the table. The easy way out is to complain, declare our dissatisfaction and opt out of the democratic process upon which our country was founded. Elected officials have been eager to feed into that pessimism by declaring that Washington is broken, even when they are in a position to fix it.


I was struck by a scene described in the Washington Post about the Fourth of July celebration on the National Mall in Washington:

Richard Palmer stood outside the White House and forgot for a moment the sense of foreboding he said he has felt about his country as the contentious 2016 presidential race has unfolded.

Instead, he marveled at the diversity of the large crowd coming and going in front of Washington’s most famous address on the morning of the Fourth of July: a California couple in American flag T-shirts volunteering to photograph an Asian family; a schoolteacher from Florida reveling in the idea that he was standing where Abraham Lincoln once lived; a British couple wearing crowns matching the one atop the Statue of Liberty.

“It gives you a renewed sense of hope,” said Palmer, 51, a salesman visiting from West Virginia with his family. “It’s a scary time. I hate what’s going on. But coming down the street here and seeing all this, I thought, ‘Maybe everything will be good.’ There are so many nationalities here, and people seem to care about things.

It’s time to think of participation in the political process as patriotism.  To quote President Kennedy: “Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.”

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