But here’s the issue: There’s no regulation that stipulates presidents must salute the troops. In fact, for the first 192 years of our republic, it didn’t happen. None of the first 38 commanders in chief did it. And some of those dudes had some serious military experience.
Eisenhower? Grant? I mean, Teddy Roosevelt was a war hero. Surely he felt compelled to click his heels together and cut a perfect knife-handed salute when he passed a uniform service member, right?
Wrong. It was literally something that Ronald Reagan made up one day.
I like this commentary not necessarily (or just) because it bites back at the rather unhelpful attacks on politicians for being just not patriotic enough. I like it because it challenges our concept of what is ‘tradition’ and what makes tradition. Other classics in this line: ‘In God We Trust’ was only added to currency in 1956, and ‘Under God’ was only added to the pledge in 1954. That’s 60 years ago for a 238-year-old country.*
(Come to think of it, looking at Reagan with the saluting and the 1950s with the ‘in god’ and ‘under god’ throw ins, and the Cold War has some splainin’ to do regarding the insertion of god and militarised salutes into previously non-deified arenas.)
If I had half a thought that my shouting into the void led somewhere, I’d recommend everyone taking a step back when it seems some politician isn’t in line with their political views, their concept of tradition, or what is the ‘right’ amount of god-fearing. Tradition changes generation to generation, and sometimes even sooner, so do the whims of politics and of interests as broad as religion or as focused as flags on suit lapels.
All that said I return to my normal stance on such matters (regarding whether a politician is ever patriotic enough): Many politicians enter office and earn some semblance of a pay cut (though money is probably not the measure we should use as politicians who do well set themselves up for greater reward later) and certainly an increased loss of privacy that accompanies an increased level of scrutiny. Yes some gain more scrutiny - presidents, party leaders - but even the least famous politicians are judged heavily at home, so this comparison is one of shades of grey, if not absolutes. And, nowadays, being in office means politicians who have vocal opponents have to endure quite a public beating that includes being scrutinised for imagined offences, like insufficient taps to the forehead. My feeling is that, no matter the individual or ideological foundation of these feelings, politicians are probably not in it just for themselves or their private interests (though they are almost certainly also in it for that).
For instance, I did not like Bush. Not one bit. I have decidedly mixed feelings about Obama, but they list towards positive. And yet with both, I am fairly certain they did not (or do not) sit in the White House devoid of patriotism.
But then that word patriotism, much like tradition, looks different to different people, and angers some while placating others. It can be an obnoxious flag-waving, or a quiet encouragement, depending on how its embodied.
But I know that not everyone agrees on that either …. So I guess I can just look forward to another round of these stories with whomever comes next.
* considering the lengths the founding fathers went to separate the presidency from either royalty or military officialdom, the lack of a salute seems more fitting to ‘tradition’ than the other way around.
In sum, my argument is that we need first to reconceptualise journalism’s functions and take a closer look at some of the normative claims and aspirations that many strands of journalism and media studies research engages with, and to ask the question: are the normative claims upon which our analyses of media are made in need of serious theoretical reconsideration? I would answer this question in the affirmative.
- Dr John Steel ”‘Liberal’ reform and normativity in media analysis”
It would be understating things to simply add: ‘I agree with this’. It’s worth clicking through the link above and give the whole piece a read, as I could probably not do justice to John’s unpacking of liberal political theory. But the important takeaway here is that, in both the way media and the way media analysts position themselves, far too much of the relationship between media and politics is built on a taken for granted scenario where journalism (via journalists) performs a particular role in modern democracies. As John writes, this perspective is:
dependent upon a decrepit conception of political culture and liberal democratic participation which sees media and journalism as facilitators of democratic politics and plurality, yet one which can’t deliver on this promise because it is stifled by the priorities of profit.
John’s call to reconceptualise journalism’s functions works because, to me and others, it is a no-brainer. We, as scholars and others as media practitioners, have assumed these idealised notions as truth, rather than something to be interrogated to judge how (or if) they are being incorporated into media practice.
When I look at my own research into journalistic identity and the way it is expressed in news discourses, so much of the language surrounding descriptions of journalists’ roles in society and journalism’s place in democracies is premised on a cliched reference to normative ideals; normative in their reliance on concepts that are lacking in critical re-theorised analysis.
If we don’t take the opportunity - or indeed, answer the call John lays out - to revisit these ideals and their applicability or their fulfilment, how can we measure progress? How can we assess the functions achieved or missed by both journalists and journalism organisations, but also by media scholars trying to make sense of these?
It needs to start somewhere, it should probably start here with the ‘serious theoretical reconsideration’ John suggests.
*John’s a colleague of mine who I tend to agree with more often than not, even as we debate the nuances of our agreement - for sport, if nothing else.