Addressing a convention of the American Legion in 1952, the late Adlai Stevenson II, then the Governor of Illinois and a Democratic candidate for President, said this about how he viewed the concept of patriotism:
We talk a great deal about patriotism. What do we mean by patriotism in the context of our times? I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility which will enable America to remain master of her power — to walk with it in serenity and wisdom, with self-respect and the respect of all mankind; a patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime. The dedication of a lifetime — these are words that are easy to utter, but this is a mighty assignment. For it is often easier to fight for principles than to live up to them.Gov. Adlai Stevenson II (D-IL), 1952
Adlai’s belief about the concept of patriotism is not drastically different from my own.
In short, how I view the concept of patriotism, as an American, can be summarized as follows: the most patriotic thing an American can do is to advocate for a more perfect Union, and loyalty to America is infinitely more important than loyalty to America’s political leaders. Patriotism isn’t about hot dogs, hamburgers, fireworks, stock car races, concerts, or anything else commonly associated in modern times with Independence Day, a holiday that celebrates the ratification of the Declaration of Independence. Patriotism is about love of country.
The Preamble of the United States Constitution begins with the words, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union…”. While the Preamble lists several other stated goals of the federal government, to form a more perfect Union is the ultimate goal of the United States federal government and is superior to all other stated goals of the federal government. The Framers of the Constitution knew from the beginning that there was going to be political disagreement in this country, in fact, there was plenty of political disagreement at the Philadelphia Convention that produced the Constitution and sent it to the original states for ratification. However, a truly patriotic American, even if I disagree with his or her political views, believes in advocating for what he or she believes will make America a more perfect Union. As someone with progressive political leanings, equality, justice, human rights, free and fair elections, a strong social safety net, economic opportunity for all, a country where government policies benefit as many people as possible, and good government are goals of what I would consider to be a more perfect Union, and political positions that I advocate for are consistent with those goals. What I would consider a more perfect Union may be different than what another person considers a more perfect Union, but it is imperative that Americans advocate for what they believe would make America a more perfect Union.
Dissent, if done in loyalty to country, is patriotic. In fact, an American may feel that it is patriotic to criticize America’s leaders, especially if they are acting in an unpatriotic manner, and loyalty to one’s own country and loyalty to the leaders of one’s own country are two completely different concepts. This is going to be a very controversial thing to say, but I personally believe that the current President of the United States is the least patriotic person to have held our country’s highest office. The current President was elected with the benefit of a propaganda campaign by the Vladimir Putin regime that controls Russia, and the current President has publicly betrayed our country in front of brutal dictators of foreign nations like Russia’s Putin and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. When the leaders of this country act in an unpatriotic manner, any American who considers themselves to be political opponents of such leaders must strongly condemn their unpatriotic behavior.
I still believe that, at least in the long term, it is still possible for America to be made a more perfect Union.