It’s a strange time for the American patriot: politics have become so polarized that they have left little middle ground between those who worship our flag and those who cannot stand it. For the average American in the middle of the political spectrum, patriotism seems to be a dying trend — a feeling only worth expressing quietly due to possible criticism. But this should never be the case; in 2017, there is plenty to be proud of, and no American should feel shy expressing love for the land from which they hail.
The likely reason for the decline in patriotism is due to it being wrongly enmeshed with extremism. Patriotism alone is a benign emotion, but like any emotion, it falls on a spectrum where shifting in either direction can become problematic. Too far right exists nationalism, an ideology related to patriotism, but certainly not the same. There is plenty of literature devoted to distinguishing the two, but it can be summarized as the following: patriots are those who think their country is great, whereas nationalists think their country is greater.
One doesn’t have to be a scholar in history to know that “My country is better than yours” is a dangerous sentiment. Merely possessing the thought is fairly innocuous, but acting on it is what has led to the suffering of millions of people. The philosophy of the Third Reich remains due to its magnitude and timeless relevance; a young Adolf Hitler leaving Austria to join the German army was not the result of a haphazard relocation, but rather a disdain for an ethnically diverse Austria and a nationalist belief that the German people were superior.
More recently in our minds rest the events of Charlottesville, which sadly reminded us that Hitler’s nationalist ideas did not die with him. It was abject nationalism that initiated such violence, as shown by the white supremacist murderer who drove his car into a crowd of people. Within nationalism lie degrees of aggression and acrimony that simply do not exist in patriotism. Patriots may value their culture and set of ideals above others, but they would never dream of enforcing them on other groups the way a nationalist would. The product of patriotism is often merely pride, whereas that of nationalism can be imperialism and war.
The U.S. military has also been a group essential in the cause of patriotism and it’s another good example of the U.S. character encapsulated. As the only student from Binghamton University who attended officer training for the U.S. Marine Corps this summer, I can personally testify to the quality of men and women in our military. Therein, I met young Americans from every corner of the country, many dissimilar in color, religion and culture, but all united by creed — united by the notion that preserving freedom and patriotism is something worth fighting for, regardless of what is happening in the news.
Few people would argue that our nation’s history is perfect. But fully acknowledging the errors of our past and admiring our country for what it is today aren’t mutually exclusive. Pride for one’s nation does not have to be the pride for one’s government either. You can denounce the current administration while still espousing U.S. values such as freedom, justice and opportunity.
Core values should transcend politics, as shown in Texas, for example. In the last couple weeks, Texas has seen devastation from Hurricane Harvey unlike any event in recent memory. But instead of wallowing in their haplessness, we have seen ordinary civilians do extraordinary things like use their personal boats to go out and rescue stragglers. Outside of Texas, we’ve also seen a tremendous amount of donations given to aid the cause. Such altruism is not the result of pretty politics, but the genuine desire to help other Americans in a time of struggle. There are millions of people who contribute to the United States’ exceptionalism every day, and it’s these people who make the United States not just a great place to live, but of course, a great place to be a patriot.
Brian Deinstadt is a senior double-majoring in political science and English.