The United States is a divided country.  Much of the limited discourse that does take place is poisoned by divisive rhetoric.  Rational thought is cast aside and ridiculous arguments based on unintelligible talking points rule conversation on any important issue of the day.  Those talking points can be reduced to several core ideas, believed to be originated by the founding fathers of this country, but instead bastardized by politically motivated think tanks and shyster wordsmiths.  To better understand the damage being inflicted upon our nation by these contemptible entities these core ideas will be examined in a series of essays, each focusing on one of the base terms that find their way into our national dialogue, attempting to find greater understanding of the idiom and those who use it as a shield.


The problem with patriotism is that very few can articulate the relation between love for their country and what generates that emotional connection.  Patriotism, cut and dried, is the love or devotion to one’s country.  What this definition leaves on the cutting room floor is most important.  The nuances of country and devotion through responsible action are what define true patriotism.  Without country or responsible action patriotism cannot exist.

A country is not defined by geographic boundaries.  As we have seen throughout human history countries have been born, then later failed or faded into obscurity.  The physical geography of regions has not changed much during recorded history, but the ideals held by the people who inhabit the areas continue to evolve.  It is this evolution of ideals and behaviors that has allowed for the rise and fall of countries.

It is ideals that bind people together, seeing populations act collectively because of shared values.  Over time these common principles become the foundation for the norms and laws used to enforce the common good.  From these group dynamics the structures of government are developed.  The social norms and the agencies of government become the institutions recognized as the foundation of a country and become what the citizens hold as the highest standard.  Understanding these key ideals it can be identified that countries are made up by people, their accepted social norms and the institutions those people have created to govern their society.

If we take this as the understanding of what makes up a country we can then surmise that patriotism is the love of one’s people, the common principles that define social norms and the institutions the people have created to govern and maintain those values.  This is country.  The land is nothing more than real estate that has not seen a dramatic change since man learned to harness the power of fire, but the shared beliefs and common actions evolve and define the country.

When discussing devotion to one’s country it is vital to outline the importance of responsible action.  One may proclaim his or her patriotism to the country, but if the actions of the individual do not measure up to the moral standard representative of common good then how much love of his or her country does said individual actually have?  Timothy McVeigh declared his status as a patriot but his actions clearly cast him to the fringe of our society and an enemy of the state.  When individuals show up to political gatherings wearing side arms and carrying signs that insinuate the value of assassination they are not displaying their patriotism for all to see, they are proving nothing more than they don’t understand the concept of being a patriot nor comprehend the constitution they claim to protect.  Patriots do not display contempt for their fellow citizens, no matter how much they may disagree with their opinion.  Patriots do not display disrespect toward those institutions derived from our constitution and law.  Patriotism is displayed by accepting the imperfections of our fellow citizens and recognizing that those same citizens are the government and work through the framework provided by the founding fathers.

One particular ideology loves to lay claim to the concept of patriotism and love of their country, but their actions counter those claims.  To really love the United States you must acknowledge all those who live within her borders as your fellow citizens and recognize their rights to be equal to yours.  Black, brown, red, white and yellow are the colors to be accepted as being part of the fabric of the nation.  Legal resident or not, anyone who contributes to the positive factors in the society become a part of this country.  Conservative behaviors counter their claim of loving their fellow Americans.  The stances of anti-immigrant, anti-alien and anti-inclusion of minorities clearly indicate that the ability to love all that reside in the country a missing component of true patriotism.  Patriots defend all people in the citizenry, because they make up the country and crucial to the continued existence of the national ideal.

In the United States of America the basic foundations of the country are identified by the many institutions established over its short history.  These institutions are fallible because they are subject to the shortcomings of the people serving within these entities.  They are not perfect but were established to serve the common good and provide protections for those who cannot protect themselves.  Many of these governmental institutions (the military, state and federal law enforcement and first responders, etc.) are considered the height of patriotic ventures yet other agencies (the Treasury, welfare, etc.) are considered unpatriotic and almost counter to the American way.  This division of respect for the institutions established to safeguard against abuses of the common citizen is nonsensical.  Any individual who claims to understand the framework established by the founding fathers should certainly recognize their desire for all men, and women, the ability to pursue life, liberty and happiness.  The government was designed to promote social responsibility for all, not just the elite class.  Some agencies appear repressive in nature, while others appear liberating, but these bodies work in concert to provide systematic balance and continuity of services for the common good.

No single institution is more important, or more often used to defend the actions of individuals, than the constitution.  This document defines much of what America is for many people.  Unfortunately there are many people who use the constitution as a shield for their actions and are extremely selective in their reading and interpretation of the text.  A patriot does not get to pick and choose what components of the constitution he defends.  A patriot recognizes the document in full context and readily defends the entirety of the text not just the passages that fit with his particular ideological position.  A true patriot is aware that the constitution frames not only the individual rights of citizens but also the foundations of our government.  The institutional interactions with the framework that is the constitution formulates our laws and societal standards.  A true patriot acknowledges the complexity of both the constitution and the law and defends all those structures and rights afforded individuals under the umbrella of both, even when he may not agree with the language or intent of either credence.

Patriotism is all too often conflated with nationalism.  The almost instinctive belief of the superiority of one’s country over that of others is pushed forward as patriotism.  This is inaccurate at almost every turn.  A patriot is one who knows his country and recognizes its strengths and weaknesses.  The patriot believes in the foundations of the country but can acknowledge the imperfections that exist.  These flaws or at least the recognition of the flaws is what separates a true patriot from the jingoistic partisan so prevalent in the national discourse today.  Unfortunately the myth of American exceptionalism is embraced as the mantra of the patriot, promoting the nationalistic focus rather than the defense of the collective acknowledgement.  It is this weakness inherent in nationalism that differentiates it from patriotism and a more appropriate descriptor of the behaviors displayed by those claiming to be patriots.

Patriots love their country, but they also understand the love for their country and can articulate its strengths and weaknesses.  They can discuss, in a rational manner, the great things that the country offers and at the same time the areas where it falls down.  Because the country was established by fallible people it is understood to be a work in progress.  The founding fathers admitted as much when they included the phrase “to form a more perfect union” in the preamble to the constitution.  They knew that a democracy would feature different opinions and a perfect solution was never possible, so they designed our government to deal with disagreement in a civilized manner through checks and balances.  Loving your country is no different than loving your significant other.  You are enthralled with the characteristics and behaviors that align with your ideals.  There are tendencies or behaviors that may make you a little crazy.  You accept the bad because of the good and learn to live with those qualities that make your blood pressure rise, because you love your partner so much.  When someone asks you about your better half you can go into great detail all of those things that you love and hate in your relationship; you can articulate your love.  Patriotism is all about being able to recount the similar laundry list.  If you can’t convey the reasons you love someone or something, then love is not the proper term to use.  Fanaticism of the irrational order may be the idiom to explore further.

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