What does it mean to be an American Patriot? Answering this question has gotten a bit murky recently. Being a patriot used to mean:
- being a law-abiding citizen
- believing in the ideals of our Constitution
- trusting elected officials
- believing in the integrity of governmental institutions and agencies
- and being a person who served their country – or their fellow citizens – in one form or another
Yet, these qualifications are missing one key component; one that is afforded to all American citizens and underscores their patriot duty. This is the right to peacefully assemble under the first amendment, and to verbalize their dissent or support for what is happening in the country.
For roughly 244 years this definition of American patriotism has withstood the test of time. Sure, we’ve had our skirmishes, our disagreements have spilled blood in our streets, but during these years Americans have all pulled together to keep our democracy thriving.
Yet all this may be about to change. We are a divided people. But our division is not necessarily caused by differences in political policies such as the cost of medicine prescriptions. We are being split in real time by individuals, organizations and conspiracy theorists who are spreading misinformation to divide us and undermine our democracy.
On January 6, 2021, however, their tactics and seditious intent became clear. By violently storming the nation’s Capital building which resulted in the death of five Americans, their attempt to overturn the elections and reestablish their candidate in an attempted coup was witnessed around the world. And in so doing, they are trying to redefine what it means to be an American patriot.
The Measure of a True Patriot
While the vast majority of Americans still adhere to the definition of being a patriot that I described above, far too many Americans – to include many elected officials – are siding with the seditionists. This is not to say that they would have taken up arms and infiltrated the Capitol on that fateful day, but they nevertheless condone the use of violence to overthrow elections.
A line has been drawn in the sand, in other words. Americans from all walks of life are jostling to stand on one side or the other. And the single most defining factor among them; the qualifier that will resonate in history; is whether people chose to stand with the seditionists and the ex-president, or with those who support their government and the current administration.
Throughout history there have been many times when taking up arms to challenge corrupt governments and policies was necessary. And this justifies to a certain extent the violence used in our own civil war from 1861 to 1865. But this is not the situation in America today. The real tragedy is that those who stand with the seditionists are motivated not by authentic patriotic zeal, but by lies, photoshopped memes, illogical conspiracy theories, attention seeking social media influencers, alt-right media, and power-hungry politicians.
Questions for Patriots
I first noticed this line being drawn in the sand by then President Trump back in the early days of his presidency. He drew the line himself when he refused to accept the evidence offered by 17 of our most trusted intelligence agencies that proved Russia had interfered in the 2016 elections.
This prompted the question in my mind: Is it patriotic for my president to side with our adversary Russian President Putin, and to question the legitimacy of America’s own intelligence agencies? (Because trusting our intelligence agencies seems to be an important presidential job qualification – and certainly a test of one’s patriotism.)
During the next four years of Trump’s presidency, he and members of the GOP caucus would offer additional reasons for me to question their patriotism, but none more significant than perpetrating the lie – which led to the insurrection and attempted coup – that democrats had stolen the 2020 presidential election.
Question? Is it patriotic for the President and elected officials to cause Americans to disbelieve in the integrity of our electoral system, and thus become co-conspirators in the overthrow of our democracy?
Many more questions would arise during Trump’s presidency, especially after it was upended with lies and overrun by conspiracy theories, which made me question how the administration was trying to redefine what it means to be a patriot.
Questions like these …
- Is it patriotic to condone or justify the insurrection on January 6 by any excuse?
- Is it patriotic to believe that global pandemics are hoaxes and to resist any measures to ensure the safety of one’s fellow citizens?
- Is it patriotic to think that mass killings of children at our schools are hoaxes?
- Is it patriotic to mock our free press?
- Is it patriotic to discredit the electoral process and the systems we have in place that ensure free and fair elections?
- Is it patriotic to delegitimize governmental institutions like the Centers for Disease Control, the Environmental Protection Agency, or even the United States Post Office? Or to demonize fellow citizens who work in these agencies?
(And kudos to Kevin Costner, the heroin of the movie The Postman, for reaffirming the significance of the United States Postal System. Costner did so in the early days before the presidential election, when the Trump administration was trying to throw a wrench in the postal system so that it could not handle processing the flow of mail in votes.)
So, just to be clear. What it means to be a true American patriot has not changed.
A patriot trusts in the integrity of our election system and does not seek to overthrow the government when their candidate does not win.
A patriot supports a free press and values facts and verifiable information.
A patriot is one who still trusts in the integrity of our government to include its various law enforcement agencies, institutions and processes.
A patriot respects their fellow Americans and does not seek to harm them either by word or violence because of simple differences in political ideologies.
A patriot thinks of what is good for the country and the health and welfare of his fellow citizens above their own, and is willing to adhere to certain guidelines (such as wearing masks and social distancing) by state and federal governments for the good of the country.