To Be a Patriot

“The distinctions between Virginians, Pennsylvanians, New Yorkers, and New Englanders are no more. I Am Not A Virginian, But An American!” ― Patrick Henry

Throughout our history, the word patriot has been used is many fashions.  We hear the word used today, generally as a self-proclaimed label.  What exactly is a patriot, and how do we describe patriotism?

“A person who loves, supports, and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.”

That is a very general dictionary definition and could apply to about every American.

I grew up at a time when we stood to say the Pledge of Allegiance at school. We did not openly criticized the government, although that soon changed.  We believed what our leaders told us, including why we sent advisors to Vietnam.  We believed that America was the greatest country on Earth and that the American Dream was available to all of us if we worked hard.  America was also mostly White and Christian. There was no Internet, just newspapers, AM radio and Walter Cronkite.  We also warmly welcomed immigrants.  America was not perfect, and the civil rights protests were an example of many things I did not fully understand.  When I said the Pledge of Allegiance, I was proud, even if I did not fully understand all the words.

Being patriotic was a good thing, in my young mind.  As I grew older, I would learn what a complicated concept it can be.

The great thing about patriotism is there are not a limited number of  badges for patriotism. Loving and supporting America is open to everyone.  To be patriotic is easy, but it takes a true heart.

How does one be patriotic?

  • Serving in the military. That’s very obvious and a very committed way to serve your country.
  • Supporting our men and women who wear the uniform.
  • Being civic minded,volunteering for your community.
  • Supporting community events that improve your community and provide serves to others.
  • Vote, work at the polls, promote voting and access to voter information
  • Paying taxes. This might sound strange. Show up for government meetings and inform yourself about what your taxes. Provide input on priorities.  Remember to be respectful.
  • Serve on volunteer boards and committees. These unpaid positions provide an opportunity to be involved and give to your fellow citizens.
  • Celebrate the diversity of the country, educate yourself on other cultures, their history and contributions to the community and country. Assist immigrants and be welcoming to those who chose our country to call home.
  • Know our history, good and bad. Understand the challenges and the results of events in our country.
  • Showing pride in our country through display, celebration and living our values. Flying the flag is a common celebration.

It sounds like being a good citizen is patriotic. I agree. The definition is broad and inclusive, because it means different things to different people, and their experiences and how they embrace their country and community are so different – and personal.

On holidays like Veterans Day, Memorial Day and July Fourth, patriotism is evident with parades, flags, and many celebrations. We remember Pearl Harbor, 9/11, D-Day and other significant events from our history, and we recognize the sacrifice and loss of all those who served.

The wonderful thing about our country is how quickly and passionately, Americans from all walks of life, have answered the call when needed.

I am reminded of examples of patriotism, by new citizens and those wanting to become American citizens.  As someone born in America, I often forget that many from other countries seek what I have and sacrifice to relocate to America, often with very little, yet a burning desire to tap into the American Dream.  I have known folks who came here, worked hard, studied and became American citizens.  Their passion for our democratic principles surpass most American-born citizens, and their knowledge of our history and government puts most of us to shame.  I am reminded of these new American families sending their children off to war, to fight for our freedom and ideals – and yet some of these patriotic citizens endured racism and discrimination because of their skin color, religion or simply because they did not “look like Americans.”

The flip side

Unfortunately, many good things can be taken to the extreme, even love for your country.

“Guard against the postures of pretended patriotism.” – George Washington

The air hangs thick with patriotism these days. Patriotism is like a supercharged pheromone.  Sadly, some wrap themselves in patriotism have taken on the behavior of a jilted lover, angry and vindictive.

The past several years, we have witnessed the rapid increase of White Supremacy groups, hate-filled social media and blogs, and armed militias swarming government buildings, and showing up at protests to instigate confrontation and violence.  When your sense of patriotism supports violence, lawlessness, spreading fear, hate or violation of civil rights – that has nothing to do with love of America.

Patriotism is not a sword to be used against others that you just disagree with.  Patriotism is a selfless action, not selfish recognition or self promotion.  It is worrisome when people call themselves patriots and it goes to their head, pointing the sword at people of color or ethnicity, or different political belief.  Patriotism is about celebrating our freedom and liberty, not using it to limit the freedoms of others.

In America today, some groups and talking heads have turned patriotism into nationalism; us against them.  Patriotism is not about hate. For those, patriotism has a definition: if you do not look like, think like or behave like us, then you are not like us, and will suffer our wrath. Love of country has been narrowed to: love of only part of our country, or certain political views. That is corrupted patriotism, and it does not represent American values or ideals. Nationalism is a serious and dangerous threat. Wars and ethnic cleansing have started when nationalism was used to suppress laws and constitutions. Nationalism is about power and national identity. You blindly swear allegiance to the state without question. Nationalism unites people, against other people. Look no further than Europe of the 1930s, where language and ethnicity were the cornerstones of oppression.

Here are a few things patriotism is not.

  • Patriotism is not suppressing voting.
  • Patriotism is not interfering with people exercising their peaceful Constitutional right of protest.
  • Patriotism is not Gerry rigging taxation policies to benefit those who have already accumulated the bulk of America’s wealth.
  • Patriotism is not when elected bodies fail to do their Constitutional duties by refusing to consider legislation sent to them or holding hearings on a Supreme Court nominee. Partisan politics is the corruption of patriotism.
  • Patriotism is not spreading conspiracy theories or knowingly passing along inflammatory, false or misleading information about those in power or issues of public interest.

If you criticize the country, policies or our political leadership, does this negate your patriotism? No. This is not America, love it or leave it. Fifty years ago we endured the Archie Bunker types who only wanted their views to prevail. If you disagreed, you were not entitled to an opinion. Surprise, Archie Bunkers still live. Remember, America was founded on being able to display and live your diversity.  American has never been a homogeneous community, the country was settled by those with different religions, languages and customs.  At least in theory. America is still the melting pot, not the boiling pot.

“The highest patriotism is not a blind acceptance of official policy, but a love of one’s country deep enough to call her to a higher plain.” – George McGovern

Patriotism is not a political philosophy, and it’s not a blind obedience to a person or rhetoric. “Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”, that is the bedrock of our country. Those words are inspiring and guiding, but clearly, still works in progress. It is those values that we should all be able to unite behind.

“The greatness of America lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults.” – Alexis de Tocqueville

We think of people who wear uniforms as patriotic, or who stand for election to guide us, or who become leaders in tough situations.  As I said, it could be anyone.  Look around, there is patriotism all around us.  I have never thought of myself a patriot, that sounds self-important.  I prefer to think of myself as civic-minded and supportive of the ideas of freedom, respect and how I can benefit my community.  I do not need the label or a badge to remind me what to do or how to feel; I will just walk the walk.


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