What is a Patriot?

Last week, I read this question and answer in an advice column:

Question: … But as a patriotic American, I find myself in a quandary when the students recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Should we stop for a moment, out of respect, or keep walking?

Answer: … Patriotism has little to do with flag-waving or fetishizing the national anthem. (It has even less to do with flag-shaped lapel pins.) Real patriotism involves personal sacrifice: paying taxes rather than finding loopholes; investing real time and energy to make our communities better for everyone; and loving America, even when our countrymen and -women do things we disagree with.

Frankly, I know relatively few “patriotic Americans” — though dudes with flag pins abound. Most of us claim we’re too busy to get involved. But I aim to do better this year. And in case any of you are not truly patriotic either, I hope you will join me….

This has been on my mind especially today. My social media is full of people loudly protesting President Trump’s inauguration. Inaugurations, someone wrote and reminded me, are not a celebration of a winner, but a celebration of democracy itself. Perhaps this is why I hesitate to join the protests. Instead, I have been thinking about democracy, and patriotism.

I find myself wondering if I am a true patriot? I love my country and am proud of it, but my love has bounds. I file and pay my taxes, but when I was 19 and worked as a barista, I didn’t declare my tips – I probably earned $100 in tips. I get frustrated with red tape; there are specific bylaws that we don’t comply with. I wasn’t out shoveling at the first sign of snowfall; I didn’t make sure my walkway was clear by 10 am.

I have lots of time and energy, but I don’t invest it into making my community better, unless “making my community better” is code for reading news articles from sites that hold my political stance, and then complaining about the world to my husband. There are causes I care about, but I rarely aid them, and instead put the bulk of my attention towards my own self-improvement. You are more likely to find me at a yoga studio “clearing my mind” than doing work to clear our water- or road-ways.


In honour of patriotism, here are three thought-provoking essays:

  • Unpatriotic (A sharp & funny review of Mel Gibon’s The Patriot) which makes this point:

A morality in which your duties do not extend beyond your clan is the oldest and most universal human ethic. The rivals of amoral familism have been universal religion and patriotism. Patriotism has come in two kinds: city-state or provincial patriotism, which dates back to antiquity, and national patriotism, a phenomenon of the past two or three hundred years.

And, for fun, a cute article from 1864, on “True Patriotism“.

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