What makes one a patriot?

Published November 25. 2020 3:14PM | Updated November 25. 2020 4:40PM

By Lee Elci

A few weeks back I wrote a column in which I described in detail the décor in my radio studio. There was nothing nefarious, intentionally diabolical, or presumptive when I characterized my work environment as an explosion of red, white, and blue.

The negative reader response was expected and typical, but nonetheless disheartening. The American flag or the Star-Spangled Banner shouldn’t be an insidious rallying cry of division, yet, somehow for many, it’s become taboo and fundamentally wrong to outwardly display images once considered patriotic. These images are inspirational and serve as a connection to American history. They are not desperate pleas to gain your respect, but humble attempts to honor those who have fought ferociously for liberty.

We find ourselves fractured on the most basic of issues when we should be united, but we have been divided before. Over decades the core ethics of this nation have been eroded, incrementally, by continuous instability, leaving America in a state of perpetual conflict. These thoughts led me to contemplate what exactly makes an individual a patriot? One man’s protagonist can be another man’s betrayer, it’s simply in the eye of the beholder.

Which historical examples represent acts of treason and which are clear illustrations of courage? You may find the thin line of patriotism to more blurry than bright.

– The young unnamed man who stood in Tiananmen Square and faced a Chinese tank armed only with a copy of the Declaration of Independence: was he a traitor to his nation or a patriot?

– Civil Rights protesters marching with Martin Luther King on a lifetime quest for equality but often in violation of laws: were they patriots or traitors?

– When 60 men led by the Sons of Liberty disguised themselves as Native Americans on Dec. 16, 1773, and threw 342 chests of tea into Boston Harbor: were those traitors or patriots?

– When a member of Antifa throws a Molotov cocktail into a police cruiser as an act of defiance, attacking something he sees as a symbol of oppression: patriot or a traitor?

– The Vietnam dissidents who sat stateside refusing to comply with the military draft in defiance of a war they saw as unjust, while 57,000 of their neighbors fulfilled their duty and died in that war: patriots or traitors?

My search for quotes to sum up patriotism showed the divergent perspectives it produces. Which do you best identify with?

George Washington: “Guard against the impostures of pretended patriotism.”

Mark Twain: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

Theodore Roosevelt: “Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official.”

Andrew Jackson: “Every good citizen makes his country’s honor his own and cherishes it not only as precious but as sacred. He is willing to risk his life in its defense and is conscious that he gains protection while he gives it.”

Clarence Darrow: “True patriotism hates injustice in its own land more than anywhere else.”

Harriet Tubman: “I had reasoned this out in my mind, there was one of two things I had a right to, liberty or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other.”

Eleanor Roosevelt: ”All of us … should remember that no amount of flag-waving, pledging allegiance, or fervent singing of the national anthem is evidence that we are patriotic in the real sense of the word. … Outward behavior, while important, is not the real measure of a man’s patriotism.”

Albert Einstein: “Heroism on command, senseless violence, and all the loathsome nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism — how passionately I hate them!”

Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”

Abraham Lincoln: “My dream is of a place and a time where America will once again be seen as the last best hope of Earth.”

It’s true: patriotism is not necessarily a display of red, white, and blue memorabilia. It should consist of conscious acts that reflect the ideals we should all espouse, ideals that make us the envy of the planet and a beacon for burgeoning democracies around the world. Patriotism is the characteristic of a good citizen, the noblest passion that animates a person in the character of a citizen. It’s a dedication to the principles on which the country was founded, and a willingness to stand firm and fight for these beliefs regardless of what the current or future government seeks to cultivate.

Apathy may be the only thing that can kill American Patriotism.