As an international student from the United Arab Emirates (rather, an Indian citizen brought up in the UAE away from his motherland) and a born-and-raised Midwesterner, we have different experiences with the concept of ‘patriotism.’ Yet, we both see love for country the same way — as a means of advocating for progress and change, not an excuse or justification to maintain antiquated laws and social norms.
We can simultaneously be immensely proud and grateful for veterans and folx currently in the Armed Forces without being pro-war.
We can love and care for America’s organic beauty while still recognizing we live on stolen land, and we do not need to exploit our natural resources in the name of capitalistic glory.
We can protest and scream our grievances from the rooftops without being un-American — frankly, we think holding powerful people and institutions accountable is peak patriotism.
A 2019 Wall Street Journal poll found 61 percent of American respondents reported that patriotism is “very important” to their values. Thus, we should use this energy and channel it in productive ways — not re-tweeting the filth spewed by the Cloyd Rivers and Kaitlin Bennetts of the world.
As horrifyingly cliche as it is, we turn to the late President John F. Kennedy to offer a bit of rationalism for this argument.
“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country.”
This is one of JFK’s most well remembered quotes because of its gravitas and its universality.
As Americans or non-Americans, legal citizens or not, we should view patriotism as an avenue for identifying systemic problems within our society and proposing solutions, rather than blindly upholding oppressive systems and praising oppressive people.
A Fox News poll from 2019 found 60 percent of respondents view participation in a political protest an act of patriotism. While it’s surprising that these statistics are so high, it is much lower than other answers — joining the military racked up 84 percent and flying a flag tallied up to 85 percent.
These latter activities fit into a more traditional idea of patriotism — the flag-slinging, Confederate-loving, firework-burning sort. Yet, these forms of patriotism seem to continuously corner on selfish nationalism, centered around the propagation of American interests in the face of global crises.
We must step outside of our cloaks of star-spangled privilege and decipher why our citizens are in the negative situations they are.
We must stop the “go back to where you came from” accusations and bigoted proclamations — even if our nation’s leaders continue to spew them haphazardly — and value each and every member of society.
When a beloved house plant begins to die, you don’t blame it on the cold or the soil or its temperament and let it wilt — you get a sun lamp, move it to a warmer part of the home, and you nurture it. You adapt and adjust to fix the problem.
In a country with the freedom and resources we have, we shouldn’t be letting our metaphorical house plants of peers just wilt, and blame them for their decline. We can’t keep neglecting our neighbors that are struggling, we must call on our legislators and influencers to bring those sun lamps out of storage and mobilize.
We can’t keep dwelling in negativity and outright dismissal of human beings’ rights because of their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender or abilities. And we certainly don’t get to decide what it means to be an ‘American’ based upon these qualifiers — being American is all about democracy and the freedom to be whoever the hell you want to be.
The true spirit of patriotism should not include the debasing of fellow human beings that identify differently from a ‘set profile’ because in reality, there just isn’t a one-size-fits-all way of looking at who is and isn’t a true citizen of the nation.
Patriotism is about loyalty to the principles upon which the nation was founded — without close-minded support of template national identity. We cannot allow the idea of patriotism to render us disillusioned, for disillusion sows the seeds for authoritarianism to run riot and ravage the fabrics strung together to form the nation in all its glory.
Patriotism is an understanding that a perfect country really does not exist. Such an understanding promotes critical discourse, but also ensures in the failure of fear mongering. This is not a dismissal of threats but an understanding that paranoia can be destructive, often serving as yet another reason for justification of hate crimes on people that do not fit the existing, flawed mold.
Wanting the best for the nation means supporting bipartisan resolutions that keep the best interests of all people in mind. Reaching a consensus is not easy, but with a reactionary mindset, it is impossible. Supporting oppression couldn’t be further from true patriotic spirit. Feigning ignorance to protect a flawed image of the nation or resisting change to preserve a perceived grandiose idea of the nation is far from true patriotic spirit.
Patriotism should be objective and for the betterment of the country, transcending political ideals and acknowledging flaws rather than refusing to see them.
An understanding of priorities is imperative. People should take pride in veterans who protect the liberties that form the bedrock of the nation not by supporting extravagant displays of military might — like instigation of unnecessary war or spending $1.2 million on military shows by diverting funds from park services — but by providing them a safe and comfortable means of life post-service.
True patriotism is more than just belting out national songs or waving the national flag sky high. Indeed, it is about integrity and responsibility, with efforts being made for the greater good. It is about closing loopholes, not exploiting them. It is about believing the whole is greater than the sum of its parts and appreciating the heterogeneity of the nation.
This idea extends further than just the identity of an ‘American’ — or whatever country you hail from. We are, above all else, citizens of the world. While it might seem like a very idealistic thing to say, it is in fact, reality. Isolationism only further pits humans against humans, just along arbitrary lines of geography, language and culture.
We are far too intelligent and resourceful as a global collective to allow our least fortunate to feast off the streets while our most fortunate sit idle, collecting their gains due to the exploitation of labor and tax systems. We are better than this — and luckily, we have plenty of room for improvement.
We must remember that no one person is greater than the nation, and no one nation is greater than the world.
Anupras is a freshman studying Computer Science.Sam is a senior studying Journalism, with certificates in Development Economics and Environmental Policy. Do you think the concept of patriotism is inherently divisive? Do you believe channeling this energy in a manner focused on change and development would be more productive? Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org