Robert Reich
The Coffee Klatch with Robert Reich
On this July 4: The true meaning of patriotism

On this July 4: The true meaning of patriotism

Why America is in trouble

On this Fourth of July, it's worth pondering the true meaning of American patriotism.

It is not the meaning propounded by the “America First” crowd, who define it as securing our borders. For most of its existence America has been open to people from the rest of the world fleeing tyranny and violence.

Nor is the meaning of patriotism found in the ravings of those who want America to be a white Christian nation. America's moral mission has been to widen inclusion -- providing equal rights to women, Black people, Native American, Latinx, LGBTQ, Muslim, Jewish, atheist, agnostic.

True patriots don't fuel racist, religious, or ethnic divisions. Patriots aren't homophobic or sexist. Patriots seek to confirm and strengthen and celebrate the "we" in "we the people of the United States."

Nor are patriots blind to social injustices. They don’t ban books or prevent teaching about the sins of our past. They combine a loving devotion to America with a demand for justice.

This land is your land, this land is my land, sang Woody Guthrie.

Langston Hughes pleaded:

Let America be America again,

The land that never has been yet—

And yet must be—the land where every man is free.

The land that's mine—the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME—.

Nor is the meaning of patriotism is found in symbolic displays of loyalty like standing for the national anthem and waving the American flag.

Patriotism’s true meaning lies in taking a fair share of the burdens of keeping the nation going — sacrificing for the common good. Paying taxes in full rather than lobbying for lower taxes or seeking tax loopholes or squirreling away money abroad. Refraining from political contributions that corrupt our politics. Blowing the whistle on abuses of power even at the risk of losing one's job. Volunteering time and energy to improving the community and country.

Real patriotism involves strengthening our democracy—defending the right to vote and ensuring more Americans are heard. Not claiming without evidence that millions of people voted fraudulently. Not pushing for laws that make it harder for people to vote based on this Big Lie. Not running for office on the Big Lie.

True patriots don’t put loyalty to their political party above their love of America. True patriots don’t support an attempted coup. They expose it — even when it was enabled by people they once worked for or engineered by a president who headed their own party.

When serving in public office, true patriots don’t try to hold on to power after voters have chosen not to reelect them. They don’t make money off their offices. When serving as judges, they recuse themselves from cases where they may appear to have a conflict of interest. When serving in the Senate, they don’t use the filibuster to stop all legislation they disagree with. When serving in state legislatures, they don’t try to suppress the votes of people unlikely to support them. When serving on the Supreme Court, they don’t disregard precedent to impose their own ideology.

Patriots understand that when they serve the public, one of their major responsibilities is to maintain and build public trust in the offices and institutions they occupy.  

America is in trouble. But that’s not because too many foreigners are crossing our borders, or we’re losing our whiteness or our dominant religion, or we’re not standing for the national anthem or celebrating our history. We’re not in trouble because of voter fraud.

We’re in trouble because we are losing the true understanding of what patriotism requires from all of us.