On patriotism

With that sly smile, that’s the Grandpa I knew. He rarely talked about the war.

On Memorial Day, I always think of my grandpa and my uncle, though they didn’t have to sacrifice their lives in battle. Both served in the Navy, my grandpa during World War II as a fireman on the hospital ship USS Hope, where, unfortunately, he saw quite a few members of the military die.

Grandpa never talked much about his experience during the war, but had someone asked, he likely would have just said he’d done his patriotic duty.

At this time of year, we hear a lot about patriotism. We also hear a lot of people claiming that one can’t be patriotic if they don’t support their party.

Sigh. Do I really have to explain, again, that patriotism has nothing to do with party politics? As I wrote last July 1, “Merriam-Webster defines patriotism as ‘love for or devotion to one’s country.’ The Oxford English Dictionary says a patriot is ‘a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.’ In none of the two dozen online dictionaries I checked did I find that it meant devotion to a party or leader.”

That hasn’t changed.

George Washington had some uncomfortable bits in his history, but on the whole, he was someone to admire. Image found on The White House.

The father of our country, George Washington (with a healthy assist by Alexander Hamilton), warned of partisanship in his farewell address:

“The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty. …

“It serves always to distract the public councils and enfeeble the public administration. It agitates the community with ill-founded jealousies and false alarms, kindles the animosity of one part against another, foments occasionally riot and insurrection. It opens the door to foreign influence and corruption, which finds a facilitated access to the government itself through the channels of party passions.”

George Washington Farewell Address, Sept. 19, 1796.
Teddy probably would not think kindly of the Trump administration. Image found on theodore-roosevelt.com.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention former President Teddy Roosevelt and his May 1918 essay, “Lincoln and Free Speech,” in which he wrote:

“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. It is patriotic to support him in so far as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth—whether about the president or about anyone else—save in the rare cases where this would make known to the enemy information of military value which would otherwise be unknown to him.”

Teddy Roosevelt, “Lincoln and Free Speech,” Metropolitan Magazine, May 1918.
I think loving my country, not an ideology or a politician, makes me patriotic, and I don’t think I’m alone in that.

Your party affiliation doesn’t determine your level of patriotism. I know liberals, conservatives, independents, social Democrats, Libertarians and more who are equally patriotic, and who don’t feel the need to scream about how patriotic they are because their actions clearly show their love for their country.

It’s patriotism, not nationalism (which is more exclusionary), that informs their actions when they stand for their fellow Americans, no matter their party affiliation, gender identity, race or any other thing used to divide us. It’s patriotism when they stand against those who would divide us or defy the results of a legal election and the consequences for acting violently against the seat of power on the basis of a lie.

But does patriotism mean we ignore the bad parts of our history? No. You can love your country and not like things that it’s done.

It’s been said many times lately, and it’s true, that if learning history doesn’t make you uncomfortable, then you’re not learning history. I can’t think of a nation that hasn’t done things for which it should be ashamed, but here in the U.S., among other things, we had Manifest Destiny and its resultant outrages (the Trail of Tears being one of the best known), Japanese American internment during World War II (Arkansas had two camps), slavery and Jim Crow and anti-miscegenation laws, and medical experimentation on unwitting participants, as well as the current grievance politics that turned violent (when election officials and others are threatened simply for following the law, something’s wildly wrong).

This is nationalism, not patriotism, and we don’t want this. Image found on Vox.

William A. Galston, the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair and Senior Fellow for Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution, noted in his 2018 essay “In defense of a reasonable patriotism”: “It is often hard to acknowledge that one’s country has erred, perhaps even committed hideous crimes. Sometimes monsters masquerade as patriots and manipulate patriotic sentiments to serve their own ends.

“But just as patriots can go astray, they can also acknowledge their mistakes and do their best to make reparations for them. No one ever accused Ronald Reagan of being deficient in patriotism, but he was the president who formally apologized to Japanese Americans on behalf of the country for their unjust internment during World War II.”

Patriots recognize that their country has erred in its past behavior toward marginalized people. They see that efforts have been made to, at the very least, recognize and apologize, and to make laws to prevent such things happening again. More needs to be done, but it’s a start.

It’s hard not to be proud of that progress … at least till someone tries to reverse it.


Small and large businesses alike want to protect their customers and their employees, so don’t give them any guff if they still require masks. Image found on Shawnee Mission Post.

One last note: I’ve heard from more than a few people lately who are angry that some businesses are still requiring masks. I would remind many of those people that their own actions (or inactions) are the reason.

While the CDC said we can ditch our masks, that’s on the presumption that we’re vaccinated. A letter published in the paper that same day as this column explains it very well:

Answer to the query

Robert Bemis, you want a simple answer as to why some business owners are still requiring masks?

The CDC has said that masks are no longer required indoors if people are vaccinated. Arkansas has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

Does that answer your question?


Little Rock

Those of us with lower immunity or who care for immunocompromised people (who, even with the vaccine, don’t have the proper immune response) or those battling illnesses such as cancer will continue to mask up for the foreseeable future. Is it because we’re afraid? Not really, though we now unfortunately don’t trust many of our neighbors who are willing to lie so they don’t have to wear a mask, but aren’t willing to get the vaccine or get tested, and so could easily pass along covid-19, which will just keep spreading as long as it finds enough unvaccinated people to do so.

Private businesses are taking into account the health of all their customers, and for many, it makes sense to continue to mask up for the sake of the immunocompromised when a pandemic is still active, especially in areas where the vaccination level is low. Other businesses don’t have to do that if there are no local mandates, but they will likely not get in-store business from the immunocompromised for the duration. If you don’t like a store’s mask mandate or lack of one, you don’t have to shop there. That’s the beauty of free enterprise, right?

There is an added benefit to the masks (besides how fashionable some of them are): People have been reporting fewer problems with colds and allergies. Since I’m allergic to both pollen and cigarette smoke, I’m continuing to wear my mask outside to cut down my exposure. Every little bit helps!

As I posted on the newsroom’s Slack workgroup when I first took this photo, I’m staying on-brand. I also have Doctor Who and assorted other masks.

8 thoughts on “On patriotism

  1. If you really love your country, you want it to be as close to perfection as possible. If you won’t admit imperfections, it can’t improve. Only adults can understand this, and, sadly, adulthood is not simply a function of age.


  2. “Sometimes monsters masquerade as patriots and manipulate patriotic sentiments to serve their own ends.” Zing!

    I consider myself as patriotic as anyone else even though I’m an unaffiliated voter. In fact, that’s why I’m unaffiliated.


    • Same. I can’t imagine aligning with any party, especially as they stand now. The moderates in each are far removed from the more vocal members, so much so that they seem to be in different parties. Here in Arkansas, we have extremists who look like moderates compared with some of their newer party brethren, and that’s terrifying for many reasons. Once upon a time, moderates could rein in the impulses of their more extreme members to legislate a least a little more sensibly. Now it’s a free-for-all, and more newbies are taking their cues from extremist groups who write legislative packages for Republicans so they don’t have to do the hard work of actual studying issues and solutions. The legal fees alone in having to fight all the lawsuits on unconstitutional laws should make citizens angry, but they find ways of blaming it on the opposition.
      That’s what we’ve come to. I hate grievance politics, especially as personified by a certain faux-patriot.


  3. I have gotten some criticism and angry reactions on Facebook and had a few people block me because I had the temerity to actually say that I think Donald Trump isn’t smart enough or mature enough to be our President. I have been told that I am un-American and unpatriotic. Most of the time, my response to this is to tell my critics that I served as an enlisted man in the Navy and after I was honorably discharged from the Navy, I began working at the local Veterans Hospital helping to take care of my fellow veterans. This response usually shuts up my critics but not always.


  4. This always pops up when someone talks of being a patriot.

    Lexicographer Samuel Johnson was a celebrated eighteenth-century man of letters. Close friend and diarist James Boswell recorded Johnson’s life with exhaustive precision in a multi-volume biography. An entry dated April 7, 1775 mentioned a discussion on the topic (spelled “topick”) of patriotism during which Johnson articulated the saying. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 1

    Patriotism having become one of our topicks, Johnson suddenly uttered, in a strong determined tone, an apothegm, at which many will start: “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” But let it be considered, that he did not mean a real and generous love of our country, but that pretended patriotism which so many, in all ages and countries, have made a cloak for self-interest. I maintained, that certainly all patriots were not scoundrels. Being urged (not by Johnson,) to name one exception, I mentioned an eminent person, whom we all greatly admired.
    JOHNSON. “Sir, I do not say that he is not honest; but we have no reason to conclude from his political conduct that he is honest.”

    1 1791, The Life of Samuel Johnson, LL.D.: Comprehending an Account of His Studies and Numerous Works, Author: James Boswell, Volume 2 of 2, Diary Date: April 7, 1775, Start Page 477, Quote Page 478, Printed by Henry Baldwin for Charles Dilly, London.


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