I have never considered myself patriotic. I consider myself more an internationalist, a citizen of the world, with respect and concern for people (and animals and environments) throughout the world.
I am not the type to display around my house the symbols of “patriotism” such as flags and other items in red-white-and blue. When people ask me don’t I think America is the greatest country in the world?, my reply is “I don’t know. I haven’t been to every country in the world to be able to form an opinion.” Don’t people in other countries think their nations are the greatest too? I mean, in some ways, my country may be “the greatest” (a superlative that states an opinion, not a fact), while in others, it is not. Certainly in safety, it is not: we have the highest rate of gun violence in the world.
However, the USA has been a world leader on many matters and other countries have looked to us to lead. Now, however, world leaders increasingly are realizing they will have to take the lead in matters such as dealing with climate change and world trade.
But I digress. I even have a problem with calling the United States simply “America” – it is a convenient simplification but it excludes all the other countries in the Western hemisphere, all of whom are part of “America” or the Americas.
So don’t expect to see me on the sidelines cheering our Olympic team with chants of “USA! USA!” I do, however, enjoy patriotic holidays such as today – the 4th of July – and the traditions that we engage in to celebrate them. I marched with our Democratic U.S. Representative, Jan Schakowsky, and a contingent of supporters all wearing teal colored t-shirts imprinted with her name this morning in the Arlington Heights 4th of July parade. Tonight I will accompany family members to watch a fireworks display.
But perhaps I need to ask the question: What is patriotism? Merriam-Webster defines patriotism (noun) as
“love for or devotion to one’s country” giving an example of its usage:
Although poles apart ideologically, they are both unashamed of their patriotism. — Christopher Hemphill
Dictionary.com’s exact definition is: devoted love, support, and defense of one’s country; national loyalty.
The examples it gives are:
But as the CEO of the oilfield services giant Halliburton, Cheney put profit ahead of patriotism.
Cheney’s Love Letter to Himself
Flooded with patriotism, he wanted the rights afforded to every American–among those, jury duty and the right to vote.
Christopher Hitchens on Waterboarding, Mother Teresa, and More Controversial Moments (VIDEO)
But all too often, as Samuel Johnson famously pointed out, “ patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.”
Putin’s Patriotism is Phony, His Desperation is Real
Although the definitions are almost the same, the examples are instructive in themselves.
Just as I do not consider a Christian one who wears their devotion to Jesus Christ on their sleeve without living according to his teachings, I don’t consider patriotism merely a matter of showing one’s devotion externally – flag waving, tearing up while singing the national anthem, loyalty to the country without question. Samuel Johnson’s quote above shows the hypocrisy of people who put on a show of patriotism but have much less concern for their fellow countrymen and women.
So, although I feel no lump in my throat when I see the American flag, although I could have easily forgotten to have my students start the day with the Pledge of Allegiance, and don’t feel the need to defend my country’s actions when I am abroad, I am patriotic in that I do care about the country where I was born and have lived in for most of my life. I am steeped in its traditions and values. I have respect for its institutions such as the Constitution, which has been the model for many other nations’ constitutions that were written later.
Maybe patriotism is caring about one’s country, which includes recognizing the problems and having compassion for others who live here. I watch the news, I consider myself well informed. I try to verify information and pay attention mainly to a couple of sources that are considered reliable. When the U.S. does something I consider wrong, I get really angry! If I didn’t care about this country, would I spend so much time trying to understand national events and feel compassion for disenfranchised Americans? Would I be concerned about our role in the world? Would I even care if Trump is president?
Maybe I am patriotic. I do care about what Americans do to the environment. I do care about the undocumented immigrants who have invested years and money in this country only to be told they are to be deported. I do care about the American obsession with guns and the amount of gun violence that is so pervasive here more than any other place in the world. I want things to change and know there are things I cannot change. While I am deeply immersed in our culture and politics, I would like to change some things about it. But please don’t consider me an ambassador of the USA when I am abroad or consider me typical of Americans. In some ways, I am. But I don’t want to identify myself this way. I’m just me.
Happy 4th of July to all of you who call the United States of America your home!