What is patriotism?


There’s been quite a lot of conversation about this recently, spoken and written with the utter certainty of someone who has an opinion.

Although I am never in short supply of an opinion, I am often just short of sounding like a doofus, so I thought I might give this just a bit of research before I spoke (or wrote) myself.

Here’s what I found, from good old Merriam-Webster:

Patriotism – love for or devotion to one’s country

Seems simple enough. Doesn’t appear to be any area for people to disagree on there. Of course, that assumes everyone views “love or devotion” from the same lens. Yah, you saw that coming, too.

So, okay, people have strong views on what constitutes “love and devotion”. Another one that gets thrown in there is “respect”. I’m sorry, when I said strong views, I meant absolute, no question, foot-stamping views.

Putting aside much of this is stoked by a calculating president, I’d like to examine a little of this discussion.

First off, the kneeling or standing during the national anthem. Again, let’s put aside the fact that the anthem wasn’t even written until 40 years after the Revolutionary War and wasn’t even our “national” anthem until 1916, but again, to the side of the point.

The issue at heart to many people is that our flag and anthem represent our country and kneeling during that period is an act of disrespect. For some reason, the chosen emblem of that disrespect has been a few football players.

Okay, let’s dive down a little deeper.

People talk about these players in generalities and assumptions though they have never met them and don’t know a thing about them. How do you know they don’t respect and admire those who have served and protected us? How do you know that they don’t have “love and devotion” for our country? How do you know they don’t have friends, family and loved ones who have made those sacrifices or are currently in that position?

You don’t. It’s just easier to paint them with an “ungrateful, disrespectful” brush, colored by your own view of how people should act and speak.

I’ve also seen people call these players overpaid and lazy. I would suggest the first is simply jealousy of their riches. The second is laughable. It’s very likely every one of these players works harder, goes through greater pains and suffers greater injury than the majority of Americans who so easily sling their insults. Who disrespects whom again?

I’ve read and heard these statements about actors, too. “They should stick to their day jobs!” Interesting. Does that mean accountants also shouldn’t comment on politics? Should steel workers have to “stick to their day jobs?” Does making a lot of money somehow mean the Constitution no longer applies to you? Stop and think about that the next time you want to tell a group of people they don’t have a right to an opinion.

If players should be fired for not standing during the national anthem, should fans at the snack stand or sitting in their seats be booted from the stadium? Or, because they paid to get in, do they get to be “disrespectful” without rebuke? Do you boo the fan sitting next to you (or texting on the phone) during the national anthem, too?

“I come to watch sports, not political protests.” That’s a more fair argument than the disrespectful and unpatriotic one. I totally agree with that one, actually. Which is probably why, from the athletes’ point of view, it’s the absolute best time to do it.

The most powerful impact of peaceful protest is to make you uncomfortable about uncomfortable subjects. We don’t want to think about race problems at sporting events (most of the time, we just plain don’t want to think about race problems). When we hear the anthem play, we like to daydream about America as the stuff of Frank Capra movies or John Wayne, cleansed of any stain or turmoil.

But that’s not the America we live in and these players risked their profession (see Colin Kaepernick) to point that out to you. That some don’t like to have that ugly truth pointed out makes them doubly outraged at the players’ decision.

I think America is the greatest country in the world. I think the people who serve to protect and defend the country deserve our utmost respect. But read that clearly – the people, not some totemic representation that is hardly treated with the “holy” respect some people seem to be incensed over.

Because the flag is a symbol, it is not the real source of our pride and honor. That always has and always will reside in the people. No bit of lyrics or dyed cloth can ever take the place of the true spirit of America, which is in the resolve, commitment and brotherhood (that should be) shared by all citizens.

One other thing I dug up while scrounging around for facts:

Fascism – a political philosophy, movement, or regime that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition

Be careful in your zeal to “defend” the honor of our flag and anthem that you don’t slip well past patriotism into something more extreme.

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