In the tense, convoluted and often outright absurd political world of today, certain terms have become separated from their actual meaning. In many circles, particularly at Macalester, it has become fashionable to detest the idea of patriotism, and in particular, patriotic sentiment within the United States. Although there are certainly problems of racial and economic inequality in the US, and some questionable foreign policy, this ire is entirely misdirected.
Many people equate patriotism with nationalism, and although their definitions are extremely close, there is an important distinction. Patriotism is an inclusive love for one’s country, people and ideas because they are yours. On the other hand, while nationalism is also support for one’s country, it is driven by a feeling of natural superiority or hatred of other groups.
During the American Revolution, men and women fought for the fledgling United States not because they hated the British, but because they loved their new country. Indeed, many of the American colonists who fought against the Crown were of direct British descent, still identifying as British subjects until the opening of hostilities. Compare this to German and Japanese nationalism in the 1930s and 1940s. In these cases, people fought for their countries because they were driven to hate any other ethnic or national group.
A modern day example of patriotism would be the quasi-state of Kurdistan. The Kurdish people have never had their own country, and historically have been heavily persecuted by the governments of the countries that they resided in. Kurdish patriots are working towards a state of their own, not because they hate the Turkish or Arabic ethnic groups, but because they want to have their own sovereign country for their own ethnic group.
On the other hand, the Islamic State is attempting to form a country because it hates anyone who does not share its specific religious convictions. Instead of seeking a state so that its members could live and practice their religion as they please, ISIS continues to ravage Iraq and Syria and persecute those that do not share its specific fundamentalist interpretations.
Although every country has a government, the two are generally not one and the same. This is especially pronounced in the United States, where we are able to periodically elect or re-elect officials. The Trump administration is not the U.S. any more than Brian Rosenberg is Macalester College. Both are in charge of, and highly visible heads of their respective organizations, but the organization existed long before them, and will continue to exist long after them.
I love America despite its many flaws. This country has provided a refuge and land of opportunities to those seeking a better life. It is a land of immigrants in search of a new home for themselves and their families, a land where they can speak their minds, practice their religions and pursue new and better jobs.
Patriotism often draws fire due to the conception that it is blind devotion to the national government. However, patriotic support is more akin to a backing of American values such as freedom of speech and religion, rather than backing of the current presidential administration. There is much work to be done to fix both domestic and foreign policy, but we must take a step back and appreciate the freedoms and safety that we enjoy compared to the world around us. In the words of Mark Twain: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”