April 2, 2024

Adina Cimet responds to Bret Stephens on the tensions of patriotism

To the Editors:

Bret Stephens’ clarity and tight argumentation is always a rewarding read. It is respected and appreciated to no end.

In his latest article, “America (At Her Best),” he manages to highlight the positive areas and goals that have made this society and country what it is. He also mentions, briefly, that “part of being a patriot also means being a critic.” However, when describing the problems that this society has had and still faces, he minimizes them to such a degree that I suspect he loses any reader who is genuinely knowledgeable about those problems and interested in solving them.

As a sociologist, I am acutely aware that historically (and even today), not all political positions are taken in good faith or based on sound knowledge. My job, as I see it, is to foster understanding of why some issues are problems that need correction by us. For example, America has an ugly history of slavery, abuses from the upper classes, and discrimination against minority groups (including Jews). These shortcomings weave themselves into many areas of our national life today. So, I recommend when speaking about patriotism or meritocracy, for instance, to embrace these tensions, to acknowledge the parts of the American story that have failed our ideals, and indeed to acknowledge the goal of correcting what can be corrected. To ignore or downplay these shortcomings, and the tensions they have precipitated, does not serve Stephens’s argument. It repels some readers from reading this important essay for which they are the most crucial audience. If only the positives are presented, America becomes a Disney caricature of itself, with distortions and exaggerations that lead to satire, not the truthful analysis we all need.

Adina Cimet

New York, NY