When I was a teenager, my family and I would usually spend the day of July 4 with my aunt and uncle at their home on Shadow Lake in Greenwood (complete with Uncle Charlie’s charcoal burgers … at least they were never rare), then head to the town square when it was dark to watch the fireworks at Freedom Fest.
Occasionally there might be a public servant or two there (I ran into Sen. Dale Bumpers—from nearby Charleston—and a few others more than once), but for the most part, politics/campaigning was left behind on Independence Day, at least in that small celebration. What was more prevalent was patriotism.
Patriotism means love of one’s country, or more specifically love of the ideals on which the country was founded—you know, those crazy things like equality and liberty.
You may love your political party, but that makes you a partisan, not necessarily a patriot. Blindly trusting in the words and actions of an elected official—be it a president, governor, or someone else—is not patriotism, and is deeply worrisome to many of us, as is the idea that one should get news from only one source. (Tucker Carlson, you should be ashamed … for a lot of reasons. I mean seriously, dude, how is Fox News not a “big news station”?)
As Teddy Roosevelt wrote in the Kansas City Star on May 7, 1918:
“The president is merely the most important among a large number of public servants. He should be supported or opposed exactly to the degree which is warranted by his good conduct or bad conduct, his efficiency or inefficiency in rendering loyal, able, and disinterested service to the nation as a whole. Therefore it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public. Nothing but the truth should be spoken about him or anyone else. But it is even more important to tell the truth, pleasant or unpleasant, about him than about anyone else.”
Roosevelt, you may remember, also wrote in the April 1918 issue of Metropolitan Magazine: “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country.”
So the idea that journalists who report the truth about a president’s bad deeds (or anyone else’s) are un-American? That’s an un-American idea. Positive or negative, deeds should be reported, and if all you’re seeing is one side, you should consider widening your news diet. We don’t live in a nation with state-run media, and no public official, regardless of party, should expect the media to cover only those things that are favorable to them. That would relegate journalists to being no more than stenographers … and some of us don’t type fast enough to cut it at that job. You really don’t want to see the typos that result.
We know how Roosevelt felt, but what have others said about patriotism through the years?
Philosopher George Berkeley (also known as Bishop Berkeley), said, “To be a good patriot, a man must consider his countrymen as God’s creatures, and himself as accountable for his acting towards them.”
Ambrose Bierce, on the other hand, wrote in the Devil’s Dictionary: “Patriotism, n. Combustible rubbish ready to the torch of any one ambitious to illuminate his name. In Dr. Johnson’s famous dictionary patriotism is defined as the last resort of a scoundrel. With all due respect to an enlightened but inferior lexicographer I beg to submit it is the first.”
G.K. Chesterton, wit that he was, wrote one of my favorite explanations of the difference between patriotism and nationalism: “’My country, right or wrong’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober’.” Charles de Gaulle had a wise (not wiseass) explanation: “Patriotism is when love of your own people comes first; nationalism, when hate for people other than your own comes first.”
George Santayana wrote many wise things, but this, in my estimation, may be one of the wisest: “A man’s feet should be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world.”
Adlai Stevenson once said, “What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? … A patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”
All these thoughts are well and good, but being a bit of a cynic, I’m particularly fond of a quote from playwright George Bernard Shaw: “Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it.”
Well, duh. Only a great nation could host so many brilliant minds as ours. Snuggies? Beanie Babies? Slinkies? We’re frickin’ geniuses. 😉
Perhaps the most prescient quote about patriotism was delivered by Gerald Ford in Grand Rapids, Mich., in 1968, six years before he would become president after Richard Nixon’s resignation in the wake of the Watergate scandal:
“America now is stumbling through the darkness of hatred and divisiveness. Our values, our principles, and our determination to succeed as a free and democratic people will give us a torch to light the way. And we will survive and become the stronger—not only because of a patriotism that stands for love of country, but a patriotism that stands for love of people.”
We can only hope that the current hatred and divisiveness that permeate our every interaction will fall to the wayside to be replaced by true patriotism and, if not love, an understanding of our fellow man.
At the moment, though, I’m not getting my hopes up. The current Oval Office occupant seems intent on dashing them.