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Happy Belated Loyalty Day

Did y'all miss Loyalty Day? If you did, are you any less loyal?

May First (in addition to being the beginning of the Outdoor Sex season) is, as we all know, International Workers' Day. I didn't know that it was also Loyalty Day, by US law and proclamation. My assumption that it was a recent, Bush-to-blame thing was, it seems, totally unfounded, as (according to The Holiday Spot, which I've never known to be wrong, or even seen before) it became a national observance in 1958. That puts it squarely in the loyalty-oath movement, and not anything to do with Our Only (current) President.

Having discovered that, and thus lost an opportunity to badmouth the fellow, I wound up reading the proclamations from the last few years. It's an interesting exercise for those (like me) who are interested in rhetoric, as nobody else ever reads these or pays the slightest attention to them at all, so the pressure's off. (When the pressure is on, as it was the other night, even Our Only President can sometimes make an impressive, if scary, speech.) Before we begin, I know that the president doesn’t write these, but they are written for the president, by people selected by the president for their ability to write to the president’s taste, so when I attribute these phrases to the president, I feel pretty confident that they reflect the mood and bias of that president.

Anyway, here’s Wm. J. Clinton, from 1997:

“Today we are blessed to be living in a time of unprecedented peace and possibility [...]. But we have fresh opportunities to prove our love and loyalty to America. The challenge for our generation is to realize the promise of our Nation: to be a strong and steady influence for peace and freedom across the globe; to be a powerful voice for human rights wherever they are silenced; to live up to America’s promise of justice, equality, and opportunity by ensuring that all of our people have the tools and encouragement they need to meet their God-given potential.”

Can you tell that somebody is trying to be Jack Kennedy? Like we had come to expect, it’s uplifting, challenging, and too damn’ long. He can’t seem to leave anything out. Still, it’s clear his take on loyalty is that it is active, and it is far from submissive. Is the nation all it should be? No, even in good times (and those were good times), there are improvements that should be made, here and elsewhere.

Similarly, here’s a brief quote from 1998: “On Loyalty Day, as we formally acknowledge our faith in America and in this great democracy, let us rededicate ourselves to the continuing quest for a more perfect union.” Again, it’s a continuing quest; and our loyalty compels us to action.

Let's skip ahead, since I want to quote from 2000 at some length:

“The power and promise of our country’s principles moved men and women throughout the American colonies to declare their allegiance to a new country and a new form of government that respected the rights of the individual. Throughout the decades, millions of immigrants drawn to America’s freedom proved their loyalty to their adopted Nation in the words of the oath of citizenship and in their daily lives—working hard, striving to build a better future for their families and communities, serving in our Armed Forces, upholding our laws, and participating in our democracy.

“Other Americans have showed their loyalty by courageously challenging our Nation to live up to its ideals. We owe a profound debt to the heroes and visionaries who opposed slavery, reformed labor practices, won the right to vote for women, marched for civil rights, and spoke out with conscience and conviction whenever we have failed to uphold the highest standards of freedom and justice.”

That’s the Bill Clinton that moved me in 1992, and the one I would gladly vote for again. That’s what I mean by loyalty, and I’m happy to share International Workers’ Day with that kind of Loyalty Day. It’s not a Great Speech™, but it’ll do.

The newly seated GWB more or less steals the last paragraph I quoted in 2001:

“Americans have not let the dream of "a more perfect Union" fade with the passing of time. Rather, each new generation, along with millions of immigrants, has promoted ideals that lead to the archetype that the founders envisioned. Heroes have risen to fight for freedom, abolition of slavery, universal suffrage, civil rights, and other principles that form the foundation of our Nation. ”

Why does it feel so different, though? Why does one sound challenging, and one sound smug? Well, in part because I can’t stand Bush, but largely because of the change of tense from the past to the past perfect (if I’ve got those correct). By changing the tense, Our Only President gives the subtle impression that the time for that sort of heroism has passed. Here’s another quote: “Americans demonstrate their dedication by protecting our Nation and its people, promoting our commonly held ideals, and passing these values on to future generations.” The emphasis has shifted from Clinton’s call to keep pushing for improvement to Bush’s wall to protect and preserve what is already good enough.

Then, as we have been told over and over, everything changed. But the proclamation remains pretty similar in 2002:

“Our Constitution speaks of forming ‘a more perfect Union,’ and Americans have always responded to this call with commitment and character. Brave citizens have fought to abolish slavery, to extend voting rights to all our citizens, and to uphold civil rights. The struggle to improve our Nation also takes place on an individual level, one person at a time. Men and women of all ages and from all over the country work every day to help others in need. Through families, community groups, and places of worship, Americans give of themselves to help others realize a brighter future.”

Again, they have responded, have fought; completed actions. Then the switch to the present tense for more agreeable, less confrontational actions. Not that they aren’t laudatory, but insofar as there is a call to action, it is clearly to private charitable action, not public improvement.

Finally, a couple of quotes from last week: “Our children need to know that our Nation is a force for good in the world, extending hope and freedom to others.” Also: “This Loyalty Day, as we express allegiance to our Nation and its founding ideals, we resolve to ensure that the blessings of liberty endure and extend for generations to come.” Here is even stronger implication that our nation is already good enough, and there is no call to improve it, just a call to preserve the status quo.

OK, I’ve pulled quotes out of context, I skipped 1999 entirely, because I didn’t much like it, and I have been totally unfair. I also skipped some bits that I think reflect well on Clinton, such as his emphasis on the nation deserving loyalty, or Bush’s restricted vocabulary, but there it is. This note is long enough.

Thank you,
-Vardibidian.

Comments

Yes, I knew this, because Rutland had it's 40th annual Loyalty Parade. I did not know it was national, though.

"Why does [Clinton in 2000] sound challenging, and [Bush in 2001] sound smug?"

The latter sounds smug in part because there's no mention by Bush of debt owed, of a duty to continue the actions of citizenship. Also, Bush does not say "We" at least not in the quote you pulled that made you think it was smug. When someone like the president says "we", I might interpret it as "we=government and citizenry" or implying each person has both a private and public role. However, based on my cumulative impression of Bush, I don't have even that sense of "we" when he does says that word ("we express our allegiance").

Otherwise, yes, I agree with you that the "smug" impression comes from the tense and the implication that we've achieved the perfect state (not that democracy/vision is ongoing, every minute, every choice).

Mm... a last note. I value loyalty to a group or a community, but not nearly as high highly as I value discovering your own principles and sticking to those. Loyalty Day is not nearly, to me, as encouraging as something like "Verteran's Day" or "Armistice Day" or "Memorial Day". Loyalty, to me, still carries connotations of the worst of "just following orders" and litmus tests for patriotism. But then... I don't support the troops either, beyond the "you do what you believe in, and if I don't believe in it, I won't pretend I do. I'm only supporting your right to choose your path, not the path you choose." Ah well, I digress...


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