We need to be searching for a better definition of patriotism in our country than what is currently on display. It should have something to do with a willingness to sacrifice one’s own wishes and comforts to serve a higher ideal. It has little to do with whether one stands or kneels during the national anthem, or whether one wears a flag pin, or observes any of a number of symbolic gestures. It certainly has nothing to do with loyalty to the president or any particular political party. For the president to suggest, therefore, that a staffer’s criticism of him is treasonous is way off base. The president does not embody what it is to be an American, and our favor or disfavor of him does not encapsulate love for the country.
What higher ideals should we adhere to as Americans? How about, all people are created equal and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights – among those, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? How about the ideals enshrined in the bill of rights to the Constitution? Free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly and association, due process, equal protection, and so on. When these ideals are sacrificed for expediency, or for the convenience of some temporary leader, patriotism is lost, not gained.
By this standard, someone who kneels during the anthem to bring attention to the fact that not everyone is treated equally in this country is, in my mind, more patriotic than those who insist on conformity while ignoring injustice that shames the country. That person is willing to endure the scorn of others and more for the sake of a higher ideal that America embodies in its foundational documents.
Unfortunately, our president embodies none of these ideals. He is no true patriot to insist on loyalty to himself above our foundational ideals and the constitution. He sacrifices nothing for his position of leadership.
When people are judged by the color of their skin, or their religion, or nationality, rather than the content of the character (as MLK, Jr. would say), the notion of what it means to be an American is violated. When immigrants and the poor are despised and the wealthy and powerful favored in our laws, the notion of what it means to be American is violated. Even seemingly small things like campaign finance reform, or ending the gerrymandering of congressional districts, are patriotic because they seek to give voice to the powerless in our society. To oppose them for the sake of retaining power in one party, regardless of which party, is anti-patriotic because it violates our ideals of human equality.
The recent passing of Sen. John McCain illustrates this well. Though flawed in many ways like all of us, he was willing to sacrifice his own comfort and safety for a higher ideal of honor and solidarity with his fellow soldiers. What has the President sacrificed? He won’t even give up his business interests temporarily to serve the country. He won’t disclose potential conflicts of interest by revealing his taxes. He insists on absolute loyalty to himself rather than the democratic ideals of the country. He desires to destroy a free press and free speech as an “enemy of the people” rather than endure criticism of himself. He pardons criminals that praise him and leads chants for prison for his political enemies. He demands respect of himself but refuses to respect others (unless they praise him). He suggests that libel laws should be changed so that it is easier for him to sue and crush those that criticize him. He suggests that protesting should not be allowed – at least not if it is critical of himself or his policies.
These are not the actions of an American patriot. They are the opposite.