Over the past several years our society has become ever more polarized. Deepening animosity, hatred, and disengagement between the various groups have created space for the rise of power-hungry, self-serving politicians.
The rhetoric on both sides of the political map is increasingly hostile as we are pigeonholed into partisan sets of views. For example, these days, it's hard to imagine a pro-life environmentalist or a gun-rights supporter who is also in favor of ObamaCare. These positions are not inherently contradictory. Supporting one should not necessarily imply rejection of the other.
In the same fashion, patriotism has become synonymous with right-wing nationalism. This is a false equivalence. One can be patriotic without being nationalistic. Sydney J. Harris insightfully distinguishes between the two:
"Patriotism is proud of a country’s virtues and eager to correct its deficiencies; it also acknowledges the legitimate patriotism of other countries, with their own specific virtues. The pride of nationalism, however, trumpets its country’s virtues and denies its deficiencies, while it is contemptuous toward the virtues of other countries. It wants to be, and proclaims itself to be, 'the greatest,' but greatness is not required of a country; only goodness is."
- Sydney J. Harris, Pieces of Eight, 1982
The partitioning of viewpoints into mutually exclusive platforms is promoted by political parties that thrive on social divide. This divide is increased as we become blind to the inherent complexity of people's opinions. Instead of seeing nuance we see paradox. This generates contempt and leads to hostility. The other is seen in dichotomous terms: ally or enemy, sane or insane, smart or stupid. People on either sides of the political map are demanding significant changes in each others thinking. We cannot require this only of our counterparts. It is essential that we respect each other across party lines and build understanding through communication and empathy. Even though parties have created mutually exclusive platforms, common ground between people can be found.
The patriotic pussy hat is intended to symbolize the willingness of people from all sides to observe mutual respect and start talking about the values we share. This is a starting point for discussion about our differences. It is a reminder that American patriotism goes hand in hand with our resistance to forces that separate us. Freedom, equality, human and civil rights, woman's rights, diversity, and tolerance are patriotic and are bipartisan values. Uniting to support them is fundamental for maintaining our American democracy.