Patriotism in an age of rage

Although at first Patriotism may not seem like a topic that fits into my True Love theme for this month, I feel it’s fitting to examine the concept today. In the USA, we’re supposed to be celebrating Presidents’ Day, but I must admit that this holiday has always been perplexing to me. Why should we celebrate the President of the U.S. on a random day in February? Are we supposed to be celebrating the current, sitting President, or just the concept of the presidency itself? What, exactly, is this day meant to celebrate, and how does one properly celebrate it?

First of all, I certainly don’t think there is anything to celebrate concerning our sitting President. He is, frankly, a disgrace. He does not represent me, my values, or my beliefs about America, and he is altogether a disgusting human being, inside and out. There is nothing remotely likeable about him and, if anything, he inspires feelings of contempt rather than national pride.

So, clearly, the notion of celebrating this particular President does not appeal to me. But even the concept of celebrating the office of the President more generally – despite some of its outstanding examples of leadership and excellence – is not something that makes me want to run right out and buy a dozen American flags to wave around while chanting “USA! USA!”

The notion of patriotism is a challenging one, at the best of times. As Mark Twain put it, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” The last part of his statement makes perfect sense to me; we won’t always agree with the things our government does in the name of “the people,” and thus we may sometimes need to protest it. That’s one of the most American things we can do, in my view. But the former part of the sentence is still confusing. What does it mean to “support your country”?

Some people seem to think that supporting our military is the same thing as supporting our country. And, I’ll admit, that makes some sense. Members of the military are often viewed as serving their country, making personal sacrifices for the greater good, protecting our country and our people from hostile outside forces.

On the other hand, isn’t the United States’ military actually responsible for a great deal of hostility towards other countries – particularly when our leaders believe we, as a nation, have the right to some sort of natural resources that country possesses? Or when our leaders (often mistakenly) believe that they know better than the people who actually live in those countries, and attempt to impose American culture and values upon them, using our military might?

Like I said, this is a difficult topic to pin down. There is no truly black and white (or red, white, and blue) answer here. The U.S. has a history of violence, in its creation as well as its continued existence, and it has at various times directed its hostility both towards foreign countries and its own people. That being said, I believe this is true of any country in the world; the U.S. is not special in this regard, though it is one of the only nations that devotes so much money to military spending, and to arming its own people. Those are both, frustratingly, very American ideals.

And that ties into my second quote concerning patriotism. As former French President Charles de Gaulle put it, “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”

In 2018, is America currently celebrating patriotism, the love of one’s country, or nationalism, the hatred of other countries?

This is an important distinction. With love, all things are possible. But with hate in our hearts, can our mission ever truly be successful? Even if we really, honestly believe in spreading democracy and freedom to the rest of the world, if our secret underlying belief is that Americans are better than everyone else, that is a work of nationalism, not patriotism. And that is not a mission that I can support.

To close, I’d like to share a quote from a current American Senator, Cory Booker, which I think best encapsulates what America’s mission should be, with regard to true patriotism:

“Patriotism is love of country. But you can’t love your country without loving your countrymen and countrywomen. We don’t always have to agree, but we must empower each other, we must find the common ground, we must build bridges across our differences to pursue the common good.”

What do you think?

Is Patriotism something you can easily embrace? What does Patriotism mean to you?