Patriotism - You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
Updated: Mar 11, 2021
Regardless of branch, every member of our armed forces takes the same Oath of Enlistment:
"I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me, according to regulations and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. So help me God."
The US Constitution was the first of its kind. There had been codes of justice and codes of law written prior to it, but the US Constitution was the first set of organizing principles where the document defines the nation and its power is derived from the people.
When our service members take their oath they don't swear to support and defend a royal bloodline, or a President, or the flag, or the land, or even the people, they swear to support and defend the Constitution. The ideals housed within that document ARE what defines this country and they come first above all else.
"Patriotism" is a measure of devotion to the ideals found within the US Constitution. A "Patriot" is an individual who adheres to and works towards advancing those ideals.
I opened this with the Oath of Enlistment because I believe that is the pinnacle of Patriotism, the actual act of putting your life at risk to defend and protect the set of ideals that define our nation. That is the high water mark that all else is measured against.
If Patriotism is a measure of devotion to the ideals found within the US Constitution, I wanted to try to understand what those ideals are.
Luckily the founding fathers were kind enough to pen a Preamble to the US Constitution laying out exactly why they put the document together. It's 1 sentence. That's it, 1 sentence defining why it exists.
Every American should have this memorized:
US Constitution - Preamble
"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."
The founding fathers clearly and directly lay out 6 goals they hope we achieve via the US Constitution.
- Form a More Perfect Union
- Establish Justice
- Insure Domestic Tranquility
- Provide for the Common Defense
- Promote the General Welfare
- Secure the Blessings of Liberty to Ourselves and our Posterity
GOAL #1 - FORM A MORE PERFECT UNION
The 1st stated goal of the US Constitution is to "form a more perfect union." That's the 1st one. The US Constitution is meant, first and foremost, to keep us together, or maybe more accurately to prevent us from falling apart.
I don't read this as a unity of ideas, I read it as a unity of ideals. That no matter how far apart we are on the how, we should always aspire to be together in the why. That all Patriots are working to bring the country closer together, to strengthen our bonds of brotherhood, even if individually we don't always agree on the path to get there. If there is disagreement, that it be in methods not motives.
But there have been some that throw their hands up and say, "screw it, we're never going to work [insert issue here] out, let's break up the band." Those individuals are actively in conflict with the 1st stated goal of the US Constitution. Being a Patriot and wanting to physically break up the country are mutually exclusive, you can't be both.
As a result, if this was a game of "Guess Who, Patriot Edition," there are some really easy filters that rule people out.
Anyone who says anything like this (even an elected official who can't spell secede)...
People that celebrate a flag belonging to the only enemy that ever posed a legitimate threat to this 1st stated goal of the US Constitution...
These people, in my estimation, are under no circumstance Patriots. These are just blatantly obvious violations of the goal to form a more perfect union, I don't see a way around that regardless of how anyone feels about it.
There are other lesser known, or less obvious, ideologies that are directly antithetical to this goal. Things that fall into that category include:
- Black Separatism
- #CALEXIT (California Secession)
- The Hawaiian Sovereignty Movement
- The Texas Secession Movement
- The Second Vermont Republic
As long as you're not a part of or celebrate any of these secessionist groups, congratulations, you aren't in active conflict with the US Constitution.
That is a bare minimum requirement for Patriotism, that you're not actively trying to secede or celebrating secession. These are the table stakes.
Quick aside: I don't think any of these things should be illegal, people should be able to join a secessionist group or fly the flag of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, they just shouldn't call themselves a Patriot while doing so.
GOAL #2 - ESTABLISH JUSTICE
I read "establish justice" as any effort that helps guarantee the unalienable Rights of each person under the authority of the United States.
Drawing from the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."
A Patriotic act is a law enforcement officer defending a life. A Patriotic act is a lawyer working to free an innocent defendant and restore their liberty. A Patriotic act is a member of a Jury working diligently to administer the correct verdict. A Patriotic act is a Judge delivering fair and unbiased rulings. A Patriotic act is prison staff ensuring that criminals serve their sentence.
It is an unpatriotic act to deny or obstruct justice. It may be legal in some instances, but that doesn't make it any less unpatriotic.
If you are actively advancing the unalienable Rights of every American, +1 Patriot point.
If you are undermining the unalienable Rights of any American, -1 Patriot point.
Score Patriot Points Here: https://innocenceproject.org/
GOAL #3 - INSURE DOMESTIC TRANQUILITY
This is any aim to keep the peace within the country.
There is a balance here, a nuance, when married to the previous goal. It is not always easy to establish justice while also ensuring domestic tranquility and vice versa.
Claims of Patriotism while turning a blind eye to injustice in the name of tranquility, or claims of Patriotism through acts of violence in the name of establishing justice, are difficult to navigate.
I want to use an example here because I think it illustrates this better than I can explain it, but note I'm not holding this up as the ONLY example, simply as A clear example under extreme circumstances.
Dr. Martin Luther King's commitment to non-violence during the Civil Rights Movement of the 50s/60s is the perfect example of insuring domestic tranquility in balance with establishing justice.
There was clear injustice being don to the Black community, but instead of resorting to violence Dr. King advocated for peaceful demonstrations and engagement in political remedies like voting, changing laws, etc.
Dr. King was not quiet, he did not allow injustice to go unchecked, but as he worked towards change he did so via non-violent methods, methods that aimed to keep the peace.
Dr. King was a Patriot in the truest sense of the word. He held fast to the ideal of domestic tranquility, not employing violence or threats of violence, as he worked towards the ideal of establishing justice. It's not an easy balance.
Applying that to modern times that looks something like this:
It DOES NOT look like this:
If a situation within our country becomes untenable it rests on the shoulders of Patriots to remedy that in a manner that also insures domestic tranquility.
Smaller but no less important examples are easy to find.
Anyone involved in law enforcement or criminal justice, when acting appropriately, is participating in a Patriotic act by working to insure domestic tranquility.
Police Departments take it a step further across the country via community outreach. I live in Orlando Florida where programs like "Kicks 4 Guns" exist. A non-violent program that aims to improve domestic tranquility in my city by reducing the total number of guns in circulation via an opt-in program. I commend the law enforcement Patriots that make it happen.
If you are actively working to promote peace within the country, +1 Patriot point.
If you're seeking or welcoming violence within the country, -1 Patriot point.
GOAL #4 - PROVIDE FOR THE COMMON DEFENSE
This goal, in my opinion, is a clear carve out for Military Service.
I have a younger sibling who (at the time of writing this) is an active duty Marine. They hold the default position of being a Patriot due to their service, and a level of Patriotism that I don't ascribe to myself. This is, and I can't stress this enough, the only thing they've got me beat on. If they're reading this they should know that on everything else, I win.
It is important to note however that I think Patriot is a title that can be lost by anyone. If a veteran decides one day to advocate for or celebrate secession, injustice, or anything antithetical to the ideals held within the US Constitution, then I think even they are capable of losing their designation as a Patriot.
Those scenarios not withstanding however, Patriot is their default title, a distinction I don't think applies to most. For the vast majority of civilian Americans, Patriot is an honorific earned on an ongoing basis.
A member or veteran of the military, their spouses, their children, +Status Effect, Patriot.
I also believe that responsible civilian gun ownership folds into Patriotism under this goal, but I don't believe it to be near equivalent in weight to actual Military Service.
It is a Patriotic act to responsibly own a firearm, as there is a positive aggregate effect on common defense that is derived from a significant number of Americans owning guns.
Any foreign military power would have to take America's civilian capacity for gorilla warfare into consideration if they ever think about touching American soil. That concept seems outdated... until it's not. Since the year 2000 there have been 16 invasions, i.e. one military power breaching the boarders of another country, across the world. It's still a thing.
If you responsibly own a firearm, +1 Patriot point.
GOAL #5 - PROMOTE THE GENERAL WELFARE
This a relatively broad statement about the betterment of the lives of Americans.
Volunteering your time or donating your money can be a Patriotic act housed within this goal. Helping your fellow American in their time of need promotes the general welfare of the country as a whole.
I also see this being applied to things like significant inventions motivated by altruism. The creation of the Polio vaccine for example. That greatly improved the general welfare of the American people, and American virologist Jonas Edward Salk should be held up as a Patriot for developing one of the first successful Polio vaccines.
I could be convinced that this should also extend to great cultural works; works of art, music, literature, philosophy, etc. Things that the country can be collectively proud of, something that unifies, provides hope, or raises aspirations.
If you're selflessly working for the betterment of the lives of Americans, +1 Patriot point.
If you're selfishly working to undermine the prosperity of fellow Americans, -1 Patriot point.
GOAL #6 - SECURE THE BLESSINGS OF LIBERTY TO OURSELVES AND OUR POSTERITY
Translation: Make sure these ideals stick around for our benefit, and the benefit of future generations.
Posterity literally means "all future generations of people" or "the descendants of a person."
I believe this is where things like service/employment in local, state or national government, IF DONE WITH THE CORRECT METHODS AND MOTIVES, is Patriotic.
Productive efforts that aim to ensure our ideals enshrined in the US Constitution can be enjoyed by Americans today, and will continue to be enjoyed by Americans for generations to come, are Patriotic efforts.
If you're selflessly working to ensure the continuation of American ideals, +1 Patriot point.
"Patriotism" is a measure of devotion to the ideals found within the US Constitution. A "Patriot" is an individual who adheres to and works towards advancing those ideals.
SO IF THAT'S PATRIOTISM, WHAT'S FAUX-PATRIOTISM?
The title of this article employs a line from the movie, "The Princess Bride" (1987). Often when I see someone say Patriot or Patriotism I hear Inigo Montoya in my head saying, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
I'll use an extreme example (so this will be a little off the rails) to illustrate the nature of faux-patriotism as I see it.
I :: holds breath :: don't really like the pledge of allegiance.
Before you hunt me down it's not that I hate it, or hate the idea of it, I just don't think it's well written. Remember the pledge wasn't written by the founding fathers, it was adopted in 1945, 156 years after the US Constitution.
"I pledge allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, one Nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all."
In my humble opinion its loose language around what we're pledging to reinforces a level of ambiguity when it comes to defining actual Patriotism.
The symbol that allegiance is being pledged to, the flag, is a positive thing. I am glad we have a unifying symbol for our country, I don't hate the flag. The flag however is not what defines our country, and in this instance it isn't even directly representative of what actually defines our country.
The next line defines the flag as representative of "the Republic for which it stands." Is that what the flag represents, the form of government we live under?
We generally take an extra step and come to the conclusion that the word Republic is a stand-in for the concept of America in general, I assume. It's not written all that clearly.
So we're pledging allegiance to the concept of America (without using a word that means that) via the symbolism of the flag.
The way I see it the pledge contributes, at least in part, to a problem in our country, that over time we've watered down and lost sight of our true north, the ideals that define us.
We've replaced an understanding of those ideals with symbols, the symbols themselves becoming the things that carry weight while the ideals have been all but forgotten.
^No, no they haven't.
It may seem like I'm splitting hairs here, but speaking clearly on why our service members have sacrificed their lives, to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States," matters.
"Well people know what he means, it doesn't really matter what words are used as long as people get what he's saying." Do they? Does everyone really think of the 6 goals laid out in the preamble of the US constitution when they read that tweet?
An analogy I'd draw here is a Christian who has never actually read the bible. They can drape themselves in the symbol of the cross, and hold a bible in their hand, but if that's all that defines someone's Christianity and not an understanding of what is actually in that bible then its a faux-Christianity.
Too often what passes for stand-alone Patriotism now looks like this...
Quick aside: 4 U.S. Code § 8. Respect for flag, (d) The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery... (g) The flag should never have placed upon it, nor on any part of it, nor attached to it any mark, insignia, letter, word, figure, design, picture, or drawing of any nature... (i) The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. It should not be embroidered on such articles as cushions or handkerchiefs and the like, printed or otherwise impressed on paper napkins or boxes or anything that is designed for temporary use and discard... (j) No part of the flag should ever be used as a costume or athletic uniform.
In full disclosure the little league football team I help coach has an American Flag print directly across the team's shoulder pads in direct violation of this, and I think it looks awesome. The point of me including this aside is that we cherry pick the hell out of what is and isn't a sign of respect or disrespect for the flag, regardless of the fact we have actual written rules specifically addressing that question.
Back to the broader point; we've taken our eye off the ball in what defines Patriotism and instead the measure is too often a person's capacity for idolizing symbols. I think that ties back to the fact we all grew up pledging allegiance to the flag daily and talking about the actual ideals that define our nation maybe once a year in civics class...if you were lucky.
Do I think anyone wearing an American flag shirt is a faux-Patriot? No.
I would hope that anyone wearing American flag apparel is doing so because they simply can't contain their love for this country, and that's a positive thing. I just don't think wrapping yourself in Patriotic symbolism defines Patriotism.
Patriotism is not self-serving. Patriotism is not self-aggrandizing. Patriotism is not skin deep. Patriotism is not convenient. Patriotism is not a birthright. Patriotism is not party affiliated.
Patriot is an active label. It means that you A) understand the ideals that define this country and B) are actively promoting those ideals.
If I could re-write it, and this is my blog so really who's gonna stop me, I'd change our pledge of allegiance to the following:
"I pledge allegiance to the Constitution of the United States of America, and to the ideals housed there within; unity, justice, tranquility, defense, the welfare of all Americans, and the continued blessings of liberty. I will work to advance these ideals, so help me God."
That is Patriotism.
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