John Dryden, one of my favorite English poets, once wrote that “Never was a patriot yet, but was a fool.” Samuel Johnson, one of the greatest thinkers of the eighteenth century wrote, “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.” While I admit Dryden and Dr. Johnson’s notions may be a bit extreme, in observing recent events in America, I take their points.
It seems to me that patriotism does not possess a one size fits all definition. Rather, it comes in many forms and can be expressed in a variety of quite disparate ways that are all worthy of respect. There is room on the spectrum of American patriots for both Pat Tillman and Colin Kaepernick. I have never believed that being a patriot had much to do with flying a flag or dressing in red, white, and blue. And I have no regard for the blind nationalism and jingoism expressed in such simpleminded statements as “America, love it or leave it!” or “America First!” However, I do respect these folks’ pride in and love of country. On the other hand, I find absolutely nothing patriotic about purposeless rioting and destruction of property (Note the word “purposeless.”) But, as Michael McDermott, a frequent visitor to Port Clinton’s Listening Room, sings, we should not “mistake dissent for disloyalty.” We are a nation founded by subversive patriots who, at great risk to themselves, exercised their right to protest against their English overseers in order to give birth to these United States. In fact, we are a nation with a long history of social movements that have fought at great cost against institutionalized injustice on many fronts and moved us ever forward towards, not a perfect union, but a “more perfect” one.
In my most romantic of visions, I imagine a United States in which we shed our “We vs. They” mindset, both domestically and internationally, while proudly preserving our unique identities as free-thinking individuals and as fellow countrymen. In addition, there is no reason that we cannot simultaneously celebrate our American-ness while also recognizing that we are part of a worldwide citizenry with whom we face common challenges and to whom we have mutual bonds of amity and responsibility.