Nearly two decades ago, The Nation invited fourteen thinkers to address the question of just what patriotism is and ought to be. Their illuminating answers encapsulate a predicament still facing progressives: how to express love for one’s country while forthrightly combating its defects. So, for this year’s Fourth of July, we extended the same question to our readers, who responded in droves. Below, we’re reprinting some of our favorites replies from among the many hundreds we received from readers coast to coast. We’ll publish as many of the submissions as possible on our community page and we’ll be asking our readers to share their views again soon.
Never wanted to cross a border out of the USA, I have always felt blessed to have been born in this country. I have driven across the country from coast to coast several times always finding it stunningly beautiful from East to West and back; North, South, or central highways. This land is NOT our country—The people are! The way we govern is. The laws are. We take exceptional pride in our Constitution but it is only as perfect as its interpretation as applied to every single individual. My idea of patriotism is to work to assure that every citizen and visitor to the USA should be treated with the dignity of humanity that the Constitution intended, acknowledging that when one person is abused, we are all abused, and if we don’t speak up, we are all guilty of that mistreatment. We are only exceptional when we care effectively for the least of ours, the poor, the old, the infirm, the disenfranchised, the orphaned, the jobless, the hungry, the homeless, the war-torn veterans and their families and those seeking asylum from abusive governments outside of our borders. We can’t say this country is exceptional unless we each act in an exceptional manner towards our neighbors.
To be patriotic means to tell the truth about the state of one’s nation, its governance and the possible solutions to a nation’s problems. Patriotism is Truth.
Carleton Stevens Coon, Jr.
I am proud to be an American, not because of the affluence, nor even because of our technological skills, and especially not because of our current military prowess. I am proud because my country broke the pattern of rule by a hereditary aristocracy backed by established religion, replacing it with democracy, the rule of law and separation of church and state.
I am proud because during the past two and a quarter centuries my country has succeeded in assimilating immigrants from many regions and welding them into a functioning community. It is this success that has made us what we are today. Now we face a challenge as important as the one when we first broke the prevailing mold back in the eighteenth century. That challenge is to lead the rest of the world in the development of institutional structures for a global community which can end major wars and coordinate responses to environmental threats while preserving the core elements of liberty and respect for diversity that have brought us this far. We may not succeed, but we are the country best qualified to provide that leadership, and that alone is enough to make me proud to be an American.