Editorial: In praise of generous patriotism

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In the coming week, we will celebrate our nation’s 238th birthday. Time to fly the flag, grill the burgers, churn the ice cream and—assuming you don’t live in the middle of a burn ban—enjoy the fireworks.

Despite real and perceived challenges, we live in a terrific country.

knox newEditor Marv KnoxTo begin with, we’re free: The Bill of Rights remains in effect. More particularly, the First Amendment protects our five foundational freedoms: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for redress of grievances.”

By virtue of political will, military might and geographic position, Americans feel relatively safe from foreign takeover and oppression.

Our land still possesses abundant natural resources, and our relationships provide access to others.

Decent education generally remains available to children of all races, creeds and socio-economic strata.

We don’t distribute it as well as we should, but we produce enough food to feed all of us sufficiently.

While not evenly available, the scope of health care staggers the imagination. Medical procedures now considered routine would have seemed like science fiction a generation ago.

Availability of jobs is relatively stable again. Wages for many workers should be higher, but the opportunity to work has improved.

We’re situated in the middle of a vast and gorgeous continent. The spectrum of scenic beauty cannot be rivaled by any other single nation.

Celebrate our blessings

You, no doubt, can count many other American blessings. On Independence Day, we celebrate all of them and thank God for our great fortune.

This week, more than any other, Americans tend to talk about patriotism. According to the Merriam-Webster online dictionary, patriotism means “love or devotion to one’s country.” Similarly, a patriot is defined as “a person who loves and strongly supports or fights for his or her country.”

Patriotism historically evoked warm feelings—not only for America, but also for how people here feel about our country. It’s singing the National Anthem, signing up for the military, giving blood after a natural disaster, contributing to a worthy cause, exercising and defending free speech.

But across the past decade or so, patriotism has picked up a political connotation. Quite often now, when we hear someone called a patriot, it sounds more like code for “he’s one of us.”

Rather than uniting the nation according to the ideal of our national motto, e pluribus unum—“out of many, one”—people who wear the patriot label often seem intent on dividing and isolating, on aggregating and allocating resources, on keeping what’s theirs.

Blame the media—talk “news” programs and advertising in particular. In those venues, patriot has been contorted to secure votes and/or money. A politician becomes a patriot, not for sacrificing life for country or risking reputation for justice, but for scoring high on a political report card.

A sad, divisive truth

If you listen carefully, you often realize a sad, divisive truth: When someone is labeled a patriot, another person or group typically is castigated as an outsider. So, rather than instilling unity and pride in the entire nation and its glorious pluralistic, welcoming heritage, this twisted vision of patriotism crushes and divides.

This Independence Day, let’s re-claim the meaning of patriotism.

A patriot advocates on behalf of religious liberty for all people. It’s not about protecting evangelical Christians’ right to say prayers wherever and whenever they want. It’s about ensuring all Americans can practice their religion freely. And it’s about people of any and no faith living without coercion.

A patriot remembers nearly all of us arrived here from somewhere else. Of course, we affirm the rule of law and the need for security. But a patriot knows we’ve been made stronger by diversity, and we’ll be stronger in the future when we learn how to assimilate cultures, races, skin colors and ideas.

The good of the whole

A patriot places others ahead of self. Most nobly, this means sacrificing one’s life for others. More broadly and applicably, it means voting for the good of the whole, not for one’s own interest. It means seeking the best for all and not lifting one up at the expense of another.

A patriot realizes “something from nothing” is a myth, and so advocates for and willingly pays fair and equitable taxes. A patriot knows investments in infrastructure and education are investments in the future, and investments that benefit everybody.

A patriot rights injustice, takes a long view of history, expects elected leaders to be honest and objective, and seeks to elevate the downcast.

A true patriot is generous, kind, empathetic. To be sure, a patriot possesses iron will, but a patriot never exercises that will to crush another.

Now, more than ever, America needs generous patriotism.

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Care to comment? Send an email to our interim opinion editor, Blake Atwood. Maximum length for publication is 250 words.