I’ve always had a strange relationship with patriotism.
On the one hand, I love my country. I appreciate the ideals on which it was founded and struggle of those, throughout history, who have lived and died to ensure that this country lived up to those ideals. It hasn’t always been successful…there are some dark chapters to that history. But the ideals are sound and the struggle is true.
On the other hand, I’ve always been uncomfortable with ostentatious displays of patriotism. To me, patriotism is a private thing, a matter of the heart and mind, an impetus to action, not a glorious display. People who wear their patriotism on their sleeve instantly earn my suspicion and skepticism. My gut wonders if they play the game of “more patriotic than thou.” Flag pins, giant flags waving on people’s lawns, patriotic slogans–all of these tend to ring false to me. They are empty vessels, sham pots meant to hold patriotism that are mistaken for being the thing itself.
Too often, I see people mistaking such displays for actual patriotism. Singing the national anthem is not patriotic; protecting the rights of citizens to choose whether or not they participate in it is. Waving a flag is not patriotic; ensuring that citizens are able to express themselves politically in whatever way they see fit is. Wearing a flag pin on your lapel is not patriotic; principled dissent that holds your country to account is.
Patriotism, like any act of love, necessitates action. It is not a game of who sings the loudest or waves the biggest flag. It is getting involved in what makes this country work. It is standing behind the country when it is doing what is right and protesting when it is doing what is wrong. To love the country, you do not turn a blind eye to its problems but seek solutions. It is not assuming that America is great in and of itself, but truly getting out there and doing the work to ensure that it is. American exceptionalism is a myth–the country is only exceptional as long as we the people work to make it so.
Today we honor those that fell in service to this country. Their sacrifices are worth remembering. No amount of flag waving or sloganeering can compare to the ultimate sacrifice for love of country. Make their sacrifice worth it. Make the country better. Hold it accountable to its ideals.
Perform acts of patriotism, don’t just act patriotic.