I like the way Mark Twain described patriotism. He said, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
Lately, the word ‘patriotism’ has been tossed around by both Democrats and Republicans as a way to paint themselves as the good guys and their opponents as the evildoers.
You know what I mean, right?
Trump claims that progressive Democrats “hate America”. He tells them that if they are so critical of our country, they should just leave. I don’t know about you, but I remember hearing similar sentiments from Republicans in the past, when the left was critical of various wars and regime building exercises. Feel free to leave if you don’t like it here with us!
We all know people who fly flags to show how patriotic they are. They wear red, white and blue shirts and sport “America First” hats.
Patriotism has been defined in the past as “My country, right or wrong.” Yeehah.
And I don’t mean to point fingers at the Republicans alone, either. We have plenty of Democrats who are trying to seize the moral high ground. Maxine Waters demanded not long ago that Republicans must “prove their patriotism” in the age of Donald Trump.
So what is patriotism?
Is it blind loyalty to a piece of cloth? Or loyalty to a chunk of soil? Is it devotion and total acceptance of one politician, or one party, or one economic philosophy?
I say no.
I say this: Patriotism is the belief that my country is a place where people can live well and prosper. It is a determination to make that claim true.
So I will no longer register as either a D or an R. I won’t automatically support the person with the D or the R after their name on the ballot.
I will be a patriot by doing everything I can to make my tiny part of this huge world safer and kinder for as many people as possible.
My patriotism, from this day on, will be shown by listening to people with whom I disagree. It will be shown by donating to my local Community Action Committee. By donating towels and shampoo to the homeless shelter and volunteering at the hospital.
I’m a patriot because I believe that humans are the only part of the country that means anything. Humans need food and homes and clothes and jobs. Humans need education and health care. They need a sense of belonging and of a shared destiny.
Humans need to be able to raise their kids without fear. They need to be able to go through every day focused on the next meal and the upcoming holiday and the weather.
They need to be protected from the dangers of war, or xenophobia, or mass killings, of extreme poverty and sickness.
I’m a patriot when I greet the new cashier at my local grocery store, admire her bright red hijab and ask her what country she’s from. I’m a patriot when she and I share recipes for bone broth and wish each other a good weekend. I’m a patriot when I turn off the never-ending partisan blather about impeachment, corruption, lies, lawbreaking and who is less of a patriot than whom. When I turn on music and sing with my grandkids. I’m a patriot when I teach them how to make the Italian foods that I learned at my own Nana’s table and when we research new recipes together from countries we’ve never seen. I’m a patriot when I meet a Mom at the local park and learn that she came to Massachusetts from West Africa and we both hate the same ice-sleet storms that plague New England in late winter.
I’m reminded of a line from one of my favorite movies, “The American President.” The girlfriend of the President is upset with him because he doesn’t stand up to his opponent, who keeps bashing the people who do support him. She says, “How can you keep quiet? How do you have patience for people who claim they love America but clearly can’t stand Americans?”
I’d like both of our ruling parties to think about this quote. If you can’t stand half of us because we disagree with you, then you don’t “love America”. You are not a patriot.
WE are America. You either love us all, govern us all, protect us all, or you are clearly no patriot. And you are not fit for public office.