Beyond the divisiveness, beyond the cheapening of patriotism by turning it into a talking point, the real concern about the loss of the word patriot is that it begins to elevate cynical views that weaken us, while weakening the best among us. Patriotism is not a word, it is a behavior. Patriotism is about character. Patriotism is about fulfilling our collective obligations to our communities, to the people around us. Patriotism is about true love of country, not superficial love.
In today’s world patriotism has been twisted from loving and supporting our fellow citizens to despising them. The great patriots of the tea party repeatedly belittle, scorn and border on violence against their fellow Americans. In todays’ world, patriotism is yelling, it is absence of thought, it is denying the needs of the nation and the very citizens that the word patriot implies you love so deeply.
Modern patriotism demands love of corporations. It requires that the poor work harder. It says that some among us must do more than their fair share while others can do less. Modern patriotism celebrates the worst in us.
Modern patriotism celebrates and brings out the worst in us. Think about that. A word that has meant so much, that so many have fought, died, struggled, labored to give very deep meaning, has become a word of hate, a word of cynicism, a word which is rapidly becoming the opposite of it’s true meaning.
Too strong, too harsh for you? By example consider the “Patriot Act”. This act takes the word patriot, an appealing word, a word that has a positive meaning and uses it to hide something which is 180 degrees from that meaning. In the case of the Patriot Act the word is used to cover the most unpatriotic act possible, an act that impinges on our rights as citizens to be protected against unreasonable search and seizure. As Benjamin Frankly put it so succinctly, "Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither."
In our panic after 9/11 we blindly went along with the dubiously named Patriot Act. We permitted the most cynical among us to use this word to take away our rights and to violate our freedoms as granted by the Constitution. Now we find our Tea Party patriots fighting for such infringements on our freedom, we find Tea Party patriots fighting for the modern day kings, we find Tea Party patriots fighting against individual liberty, and in so much of their legislation we find them fighting against democracy itself as they fight to restrict voting rights across the nation.
Patriotism is a word that we now use to bludgeon the least among us. It is a word we use to enforce double standards. It is a word we hide behind to avoid confronting difficult decisions and views contrary to our own. It is a word we hide behind to cheer the death of the uninsured. It is a word we hide behind to boo soldiers serving in our foreign wars. It is a word we use to blindly deny facts.
Modern patriots ask the poor and middle class to suffer more, to work harder, to do away with entitlements, to pay more than their fair share, while simultaneously refusing to ask the same of our nation's wealthy and of our nation’s newest citizens, corporations. Patriotism is asking others to do what you yourself will not. Patriotism is asking others to struggle, to fight for you when you will not in turn struggle and fight for them. Patriotism is despising your fellow Americans in favor of your political party.
If patriots throughout our history operated under this perverse patriotic notion, how much history would we have to look back on? If patriotism becomes passive, who will act on behalf of the future of our nation? We must not just reclaim the word patriot, we must act as patriots. We must work through love of country, for the success and benefit of all Americans, even those who would use these words against us. In the midst of the current rancor, true patriotism, the acts, not the the word, may be the one thing that can bring us back together as one nation of the people, by the people and for the people.