Ideally, we would all love the country we live in and be proud to serve it. You don’t need to believe it’s the best country in the world to strive to make it the best it can be. However, as with any relationship, it’s difficult to sustain love for your country when you don’t feel loved by it or love its treatment of others.
There are two forms of patriotism, although we mostly hear about the first: loving your country no matter what, right or wrong. It’s a mix of unconditional love and unquestioning devotion. The second form is loving your country while working to fix it. This sounds humanistic in that it emphasizes our ability and responsibility to achieve our country’s aspirations. Criticism, dissent, and respectful argument are patriotic when conducted with the acceptance that all are equal under the law and entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
Isn’t that the ideal on which America was founded? We were unhappy with how the King treated us so we revolted and formed a new government. In developing a new government—understanding that we are imperfect—we incorporated checks and balances designed to work towards a more perfect union. The Declaration of Independence, the document we celebrate on July 4th, encourages us to take action against a government that doesn’t properly serve its people:
That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
While appreciating the Declaration, we can also disagree with its use of terms such as “men” and “Indian savages” and be disappointed with its claim that we all have “certain unalienable rights” when almost 20 percent of the American population were slaves for another hundred years. In his 1852 speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July,” Fredrick Douglass both praised our Founding Fathers and criticized the Declaration for not ending slavery. “The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me… This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.”
Most of the freedoms we value today were added over the years by dedicated and persistent citizens—and immigrants—doing their part to make our country a safe home for all. Soldiers are often considered “real Americans” due to their bravery, but let us not forget those who fight for our country in many other forms. The teachers who inspire lifelong learning despite limited resources. The architects and construction workers who built our cities and must rebuild them after disasters. The farmers who nourish us even with climate change challenges. The lawyers who defend our rights when attacked. The writers and artists who bring ideas to life even when others try to silence them. The doctors and nurses who help us make the best decisions for our own health. The organizations that stretch small budgets to protect our country’s land, animals, and people. And the politicians who make government work for its people even when colleagues and corporations push back.
Should we also have the freedom to choose how much we love our country and how we decide to display that love? Patriotism should never be forced, just as love for anything or anyone must be left to the individual. Staying silent during the Pledge of Allegiance or kneeling during the anthem shows respect for the country while also signaling disagreement with some of its actions. Shouting “USA” and always wearing red, white, and blue doesn’t make you anymore patriotic—or better. A true patriot participates in democracy—meaning learning about civics, voting, volunteering, paying taxes, supporting the Constitution, and protecting human rights—as well as encourages and enables others to do so.
A recent survey by WalletHub ranks each state’s patriotism and claims that “some states are better than others at showing their national pride.” They have a good mix of military and civic engagement factors, but no mention of the state’s policies on supporting veterans, healthcare, public education, or voter rights. It is easier to love where you live when you feel supported by your government. Also, if Google searches for American Flags are considered important, then surveys should also include searches for government documents and visits to government websites. There is more to love about America than our flag.
Anyone who truly cares for America will do their best to take care of it. You can decide if you want to be patriotic, but I do encourage you to be humanist because the country could use more humanity now.