I’ve met Montana Senator Steve Daines a few times. I’m a constituent. Although I don’t agree with him on a lot of issues, he always seemed nice, professional and respectful. He was good to my son Cory, who has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.
Once, when Daines was still a Congressman, my son and I visited his office in Washington D.C. to persuade him to support the renewal of the Muscular Dystrophy Care Act. (He did, and even called Cory days later to personal tell him about it.) He took Cory out onto the House floor, let him cast a few votes, and introduced him to then-Representative (now Senator) Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, who, like my son, is also in a wheelchair. She lost both of her legs in Iraq while serving as a U.S. Army helicopter pilot. Born in Thailand, she was the first Thai-American woman and the first disabled woman to be elected to Congress. She’s liberal. She was born elsewhere. She’s American. She loves our country. She’s a patriot. She’s a wonderful part of American history. Daines seemed to respect her despite their political differences.
At one point, my son asked Daines about an issue Daines and I have disagreed on. Daines looked at me, looked at my son, smiled, and said, “Cory, there are things your father and I don’t see eye-to-eye on, and that’s okay. But we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about you and muscular dystrophy.”
It was the perfect answer. Daines earned my admiration and respect that day.
Monday, he lost my admiration and respect when he defended and joined Donald Trump’s insulting, race-based, xenophobic and divisive attacks on members of Congress, and his dangerous McCarthy-like judgements of who is and who isn’t “American.” The day before, Trump accused four progressive congresswomen of color of “hating America,” and suggested they “go back” to the “crime infested” countries they “originally came from” – even though all four are citizens of the United States, three were born in the United States, and all were elected by fellow U.S. citizens to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives.
In response, Daines tweeted: “Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals. This is America. We’re the greatest country in the world. I stand with @realdonaldtrump.”
I love the United States. I love the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality for all. Even if we haven’t always lived up to those ideals, our founders left us a Constitution that not only outlines those ideals but established legal and civil ways to fight for and achieve those ideals. To challenge things. To criticize things. To try and change things. Central to that is the freedom to speak against the things we don’t like.
That’s why I enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps, volunteered to serve in a Force Recon unit, and took an oath to defend our nation and Constitution. That’s why after leaving active duty I
served in the Marine Corps Reserves and then the Montana Army National Guard. I served with a diversity of people, from all walks of life, from a variety of backgrounds, from throughout the nation. Different colors; different religious views; different political views – a snapshot of Americans serving America. We often had debates and disagreements, occasionally heated ones, but we would have all sacrificed our lives for each other and our country. In fact, some of my friends did just that.
Last May, I attended a reunion of my fellow Force Recon Marines at topsail Beach, North Carolina, near Marine Corps base Camp LeJeune. I hadn’t seen most of them for more than 30 years. We remain different; maybe more so as we’ve aged. I don’t agree with the political views of most of them. But I love them like brothers. We’re all Americans. We all love our country. We’ve proven that. We take seriously the Voltairean notion (as expressed by Evelyn Beatrice Hall), “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
E pluribus unum. United we stand.
I find it increasingly and disturbingly disconcerting that so many Americans, and leaders such as Trump and Daines, don’t seem to understand the important distinction between patriotism and nationalism. They’ve hijacked and distorted the word ‘patriotism.’ They don’t seem to fully understand the First Amendment of the Constitution. They apparently believe that anyone who doesn’t share their thoughts, values and believes, and conform to their standards and notions of ‘patriotism,’ must hate America.
Ironically, their attitude is as unAmerican as it gets.
David Stalling is a writer, photographer and activist living in Missoula, Montana.