Reflections on Patriotism

Coming into July 4th weekend, I listened to Preet Bharara’s weekly Stay Tuned podcast titled What Patriotism Means to You. He closed the recording with a montage of listeners who’d phoned in what patriotism meant to them personally. I gave that some thought over the next couple days. What should be an easy question is a lot more complex if you dwell on it. It’s a tougher ask yet to take it out of an abstract word and ask about what being an American means. That’s because the USA is the world’s longest running democracy at this kind of scale and almost demands both a love of country and a respect of others’ beliefs about it. To me, patriotism starts with one thing: you.

One of my favorite blog entries here is You’re Not Going to Change Anyone’s Vote. I spend a good bit of time outlining personal values and what they mean to relationships. Let me lay that out briefly. If this is your set of beliefs:

…Then you can find lots to agree on and discuss with someone whose values look a bit like this:

Good friends tend to have minor differences but align on the big ones.
Good friends tend to have minor differences but align on the big ones.

When you get further out of alignment, there’s a greater chance to butt heads.

And then there’s living on different worlds. You’re so out of line with someone else’s values that you’re going to struggle with finding any common ground at all. The sky’s simply a different color for the two of you.

Wildly different planets.
Wildly different planets. You may see eye-to-eye on some small things, but that’s not enough common ground.

So how’s this play into patriotism, you may ask? My definition of patriotism is loving your country and wanting its values and actions to represent something positive to the rest of the world. That’s going to be an ongoing struggle and at its very foundation is the realization that core beliefs are different from person to person; even when they’re the same, they may vary in priority. There’s also the realization that meaning something to the world will vary based on the nations you’re discussing. It also doesn’t mean that your country has to be the absolute “best” at everything. Some of “best” isn’t measurable, some of “best” is subjective.

Patriotism is loving your country and wanting its values and actions to represent something positive to the rest of the world.”


A great quote about patriotism to combine with my thoughts is from Mark Twain:

Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

Mark Twain

Putting those together means that your government deserves support when it represents your values in a way which represents something positive to the world. When our government doesn’t, well then that’s where our democracy should come in. American patriotism has to have mutual respect and representation in order to function. It has to. It’s also where that header picture of Megan Rapinoe and Donald Trump above comes in. There’s a lesson in there to be learned.

That lesson should start with asking why the co-captain for the American Women’s World Cup team (and winner of this year’s Golden Boot as highest scorer and Golden Ball as best player) said she’s not fucking going to the White House well before the team won the Cup. In searching for that video, I found the one below. I swear I hadn’t seen it before and it precisely echoes what I’m stating here. She feels strongly about values she wants to stand for which will be a positive influence for the game and those inspired by her. From there, she states that the administration doesn’t fight for those same things.

Personal values should beat partisanship any day of the week. Whataboutism doesn’t work against defensible values. Garbage arguments fall apart when there’s not a valid why behind them. Positions which demand that others be lesser in order to back a perceived truth don’t hold up. Sports teams who would traditionally do a White House visit regardless of who’s in the Oval do something else visible to reflect their values and celebrate their accomplishments. There are consistent reasons time after time.

This all comes back on us as people. It’s difficult seeing line after line get crossed by the government and citizens support the actions. It’s tough seeing laws broken, policies get shot down regularly in court only to be restated and tried again, and bogus statements like windmill cancer. It’s striking to see G20 pictures with the president standing next to dictators rather than leading the West. And it boggles the mind when we see a government lawyer argue that soap and toothbrushes aren’t necessary when war prisoners get better and Somali pirates have moral high ground.

These aren’t hoaxes or witch hunts, they’re features. Support of it’s a statement of aligned values. My definition of patriotism means I can’t go along with what I see because my own values don’t align. Up to 2016, I saw most of the country defining patriotism much the way I (and Twain) did. Sure, that was with a variety of lenses and we screwed up, but the underlying premise was still to have us lead because others wanted to be us. That was what made us great and I’d love to see us great again, because that’s my definition of patriotism.

For more like this, please see Digital Divisiveness in the categories.

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