Patriotism Isn’t Always Easy

Author: John Bedell (Democrat)

Patriotism is complicated. Yet patriotism is simple. Patriotism is a strange paradox of multilayered simplicity that will forever be present in the public discussion. While my view and tolerance of patriotism is flawed, as I have consciously or unconsciously reduced it to something that makes sense to me, I am striving to correct that and hope to eventually reach a place in which I am not only more patriotic, but also more willing to see the patriotism in others. 

The national conversation around patriotism has intensified;  in a recent interview, Senator Tammy Duckworth suggested and encouraged a national debate surrounding the legacy of presidents who owned slaves. Agree with Senator Duckworth or not, it will likely take a national dialogue and discussion to help preserve the soul of our nation. Yet in response to such suggestion from Sen. Duckworth, Fox News host Tucker Carlson suggested:

“A national dialogue. Please. They’re not looking for any kind of colloquy. What they want is a soliloquy. We speak, you shut up and listen….So what to make of all of this? Well it’s long been considered out of bounds to question a person’s patriotism. It’s a very strong charge, and we try not ever to make it. But in the face of all of this, the conclusion can’t be avoided. These people actually hate America. There’s no longer a question about that.” (CBS News)

Carlson’s statement is riddled with offensive errors; therefore, it is important that if we are to understand how to have a more constructive conversation around patriotism, we must examine the mistakes he made. The first was the blatant insult to Senator Duckworth, a woman who lost both legs fighting for her country in Iraq, in claiming that she hates America. Carlson himself, possibly for rhetorical effect, mentions how lofty an assault of false patriotism is, however, he clearly fails to think of why that is so, as the reason one must not critique the patriotism of one opposed to you is because, as Carlson has done, patriotism becomes a piece in a larger game of political chess. Further, Carlson is clearly opposed to having a conversation, attacking the substance before it has even taken place. Finally, Carlson’s views of patriotism come into focus. It is clear that he has, consciously or not, reduced this act of patriotism to blind allegiance that benefits his own message, as Duckworth’s own patriotism has made him uncomfortable, so he attempts to discredit such opposition to his own beliefs. 

Carlson’s statement is appalling because it critiques the patriotism of somebody who is willing to, and indeed did, put her life on the line for her country, and similarly is willing to ask difficult questions about the direction of the country now. A stagnant country is a counterproductive country, and a dangerous country for those subjected to injustices. Carlson’s rhetoric is all too often present in our conversations about patriotism, rarely with such malicious intent, and often an innocent failure to reexamine the flaws we have in these beliefs. 

To levy such a charge against Duckworth raises a question for all, which is, who is more patriotic in that situation? The man condemning another’s words suggesting dialogue about the troubled past of the country she loves enough to fight for, or the woman who did that physical fighting, and continues to fight for the soul of the nation in the ways she sees best fit. Carlson’s refusal to truly examine Duckworth’s suggestion as well as the history and state of his country demonstrates an apathy that does not highlight love. To be patriotic is to love one’s country, and Duckworth’s investment in the complex history of her country demonstrates a true love of country. Carlson may be functioning under the notion that love of country exempts the ability to critique it, and, while popular, that notion fails to acknowledge the fact that love strives to make the other the best it can be, which cannot come without critiques. 

In its simplest form patriotism is love of country. 

As simple as this definition of patriotism is the complex world in which we live reveals a startlingly opposite reality. With many condemning others, labels of “patriot” being used as a marketing ploy, and accusations of false patriotism, such a “simple” topic reveals a much deeper truth. This topic has been turned into something far too complicated. 

A patriot is likely agreed upon by all as a person who loves their country, and who strives to do things that make their country a better place. With such consensus surrounding the definition, a universal understanding appears to be inevitable, as surely all can recognize the various ways of expression of such love and the various actions that can help create a better reality. Adversely, this definition has been misconstrued, spun into a minimally inclusive set of ideals centered around core principles of blind allegiance and unification against different ideals. 

Patriotism is centered around love, and love is centered around an eternal focus helping that which you love become the best it can be; therefore, patriotism requires one to forever strive to create a better country for all. Here in the United States of America, it would be blind to say that there are no problems in the country’s troubled history, and blind to say there are no problems in the country’s troubled present. Acknowledgement of such a basic fact is the cornerstone of creating a better tomorrow, as one must identify the problems that must be solved. It is those who make it the primary goal to solve these problems that are truly patriotic. To ignore or deny such problems or to demonize those who raise awareness to them in the name of patriotism solely amplifies the contrary, as any apprehension in the path to a better country is far from patriotic. With this understanding, it becomes clear that it is imperative that all who possess this love of country have an obligation to live in such a way that works to solve the problems plaguing their own country. 

In the recent news cycle, flawed notions of patriotism have quickly come to the surface and a public debate has ensued. Many have been quick to label others as not patriotic, often solely to advance their own agenda. Blinded by personal gain or comfortable complacency, it becomes dangerously easy to trick oneself into believing that what feels comfortable is what is best for the country. As one examines the actions of others, we often oversimplify their actions, and reduce them down in terms of black-and-white morality, seeing something as wholly good or wholly bad, and the scale is rarely their actions in context of the bigger picture, but more often their actions in the context of our own personal interests. 

The key to encouraging a more productive view of patriotism is to view actions not in terms of their outcomes, but rather in terms of their motives. If we as a country can take the time to realize that those protesting various injustices are not doing so to stir up violence, but are doing so to create a better tomorrow for their children, we become well on our way to creating a better country. If we as a country can take the time to realize that love is difficult, and easy patriotism is not truly patriotism, we can begin to have more difficult conversations that result in more fruitful results. If we as a country can realize that expressions of patriotism can fit in no box, but can span a variety of different actions, we can mobilize movements that help to create necessary change. We must break the endless cycle of partisan standoffs, and work towards creating a country that is truly better than the one we have today. 

As some may condemn protests for raising uncomfortable questions about the status quo, it is important that we realize complacency is the enemy of progress. We all have an obligation, as patriots, to challenge ourselves to see more, to understand more, and to do more to truly make our country better. If this means actively serving, then this is what you ought to do. If this means actively protesting, then this is what you ought to do. If this means having difficult conversations, then this is what you ought to do. We all must continue pushing for a better tomorrow. If we as a country can realize that it is the Constitution that is the cornerstone of these United States, not a person or group of people, it can lead to self reflection that can create a more understanding, more just country for all. 

Patriotism will be difficult to discuss, because it is personal; however, if we can recognize why it is so personal and recognize that until we identify the problems, we cannot solve the problems, we will be well on our way. If all who read this and think that perhaps their patriotism has gone unchallenged for too long, we can begin to heal the divides in our country, and create a better tomorrow for all. 

Works Cited

O’Kane, Caitlin. “Tucker Carlson Says Sen. Tammy Duckworth, Who Received a Purple Heart after Losing Both Her Legs in Iraq, Hates America.” CBS News, CBS Interactive, 8 July 2020, www.cbsnews.com/news/tammy-duckworth-tucker-carlson-hates-america-response/.

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