There are a number of definitions for the word patriot and patriotism. Webster defines a patriot as “a person who loves his country and strongly supports it.” Definitions also include having a sense of personal identification with a country, willingness to sacrifice to promote the country’s good, and more.
A lot of subjectivity goes into who is a patriot and who isn’t. It has been disheartening to watch our country split over political party affiliations. Republicans and Democrats have always fought for and on behalf of their beliefs, as it should be. But at five o’clock both politicians and non-politicians could shake hands, perhaps enjoy an adult beverage, and share some good laughs. Not anymore.
The rhetoric seems especially extreme in describing Democrats, although Democrats don’t have a monopoly on dishing it out or being on the receiving end. In the same sentence Republicans pair Democrats with radical socialists, communists, lovers of the Castro brothers, wanting to turn America into Nicolas Maduro’s failed state of Venezuela, and worse. If Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (D-NY) didn’t exist, Republicans would have to invent her. One would think that she is the face of the Democratic Party, but can anyone identify a single bill that she has gotten passed in her almost 28 months in office? And I don’t consider Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), despite her bellicosity, to be the face of the Republican Party. I wonder how many Democrats buried at Arlington and other national cemeteries, real patriots, would see themselves as they have been redefined?
Without question, in the top tier of the things that have held this country together, is adherence to the rule of law. The Constitution is merely a piece of paper without the willingness of the American people to abide by the social contract to support, defend and preserve the underlying words in this noble document. And yet we saw many hundreds of people who called themselves the real patriots---and sincerely believe they are---attack the Capitol of the United States on January 6, 2021 in an effort to overturn the presidential election results. These same people, who condemn Democrats for proposing to defund the police, attacked police officers at the Capitol with a vengeance. I think of Samuel Johnson’s words in this instance, that "patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel", are appropriate. Supporting the rule of law is Patriotism 101. Anything else one would add to that is secondary.
We also heard Donald Trump call these people patriots, the people who chose violence because they were unhappy with the decisions of some 61 judges of both political parties that no evidence of widespread fraud had been presented to the courts. Does the rule of law only apply to them when it comports with their agendas?
A number of the insurrectionists were police officers and people in various military statuses, all whom took an oath to support, defend and preserve the Constitution and the laws of this country. By what measure do these people consider themselves patriots? How does the social contract, the glue that holds us together, survive if fellow Americans no longer believe in our institutions, to include the courts and justice department that have served us well from the beginning? Have our institutions failed us at times? Of course. They are comprised of people, but people also have the capacity to make things better.
During the Vietnam War, an oft repeated slogan by supporters was “my country, right or wrong.” The second half, though, continues, “when she’s right, keep her right, and when she’s wrong, set her right.” Patriots, as opposed to jingoists, understand that and use the constitutional republican democracy our forebears created to make changes through the law and processes created by law. The voters and the courts, having failed the January 6th insurrectionists, chose to ignore the Constitution.
Those who believe that Americans are cookie cutouts, that there is only one set of political beliefs, do not understand that what makes America different, that sets us apart from every other country is that our form of government respects, allows, and protects people and beliefs of all kinds that are different. We have gone to war to protect those values.
Real patriots support our institutions and courts whether they like their decisions or not. We cannot survive as a nation if we don’t. As Robert Jackson, one of the greatest Supreme Court justices once said about the High Court, “We are not final because we are infallible, but we infallible only because we are final.” This is a principle we should all be mindful of.