America needs patriots


MV Jantzen

The National Mall was surrounded by American flags in 2007 during a protest against homophobia in the military

American patriotism is in shambles. Instead of bringing the country together, it has become a symbol of our divisiveness. The percentage of U.S. adults “extremely proud” to be American has hit a 20-year low at 38%, Gallup recorded in 2022. Patriotism varies greatly between political parties, with 58% of Republicans “extremely proud” to be American, compared to 26% of Democrats. The stark contrast reflects the popular viewpoint of patriotism as a Republican rallying point, an image completed with the national anthem and support for military veterans. 

Conservative patriotism is based on unabashed pride for your country, no matter its shortcomings. It is often peppered with the racist, anti-immigrant rhetoric that only serves to deepen the fractures in America’s foundation. Take the alt-right white supremacist group the Patriot Front. Just by the name, you can tell that the group’s violent, racist ideals are clearly intertwined with a warped version of patriotism.

On the other end of the spectrum, liberals seem to be uncomfortable with patriotism, while leftists often disdain the idea completely. Instead of unabashed pride, you’d find political cynicism. Recently, regressive policies like the Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe v. Wade and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ attack on AP African American Studies curriculum have posed direct threats to the quality of life for women and Black people in America. Government officials are rewriting history books to omit radical Black leaders. In light of these enormous steps backwards, it’s not hard to sympathize with leftists who believe that since the country is already broken beyond repair, there’s no need to try fixing it. After all, if America has always been a fundamentally racist and bigoted institution, then the country was hopelessly doomed from the start. In the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones and the New York Times revealed how deeply rooted in racism America has always been since the first slave ship arrived in colonial times. The evidence for all of America’s faults stacks up pretty quickly, painting a damning picture for the fate of our nation. Maybe this cynicism is well deserved. Maybe this version of the country’s destiny is true. 

The stark contrast reflects the popular viewpoint of patriotism as a Republican rallying point, an image completed with the national anthem and support for military veterans. 

But maybe it’s not the only truth. 

The momentous issues that plague the country have not been seamlessly smoothed over. They have, however, been patched up in certain places. There are spots where American history has been shifted off its original racist, unequal course. Take the most recent examples of leaps and bounds forwards: Michelle Yeoh became the first Asian woman to take home the award for best leading actress at the 95th Oscar Awards; the first female Black and Asian American vice president, Kamala Harris, took office on Jan. 20, 2021; last summer, the first Black Supreme Court Justice, Ketanji Brown Jackson, was appointed. It is a shame that it has taken so long for these glass ceilings to be shattered. It is a source of pride that the shards now litter the floor. These cases provide a benchmark for how far the nation has come, revealing a thread of hope to latch on to. Regardless of its foundations, America is not beyond saving.

The crux of the issue is that political cynicism is deadly

The crux of the issue is that political cynicism is deadly. It allows us to sit on our hands and watch things get worse, because we have already resigned ourselves to the worst case scenario. (Besides, someone else will step up, right?) That kind of complacency is always dangerous to our democracy, but especially now, when American pride is at an all-time low. No one fights for things they don’t care about or believe in. Accordingly, impactful change won’t occur until the better part of America takes pride in the nation. 

“National pride is to countries what self-respect is to individuals: a necessary condition for self-improvement,” American philosopher Richard Rorty wrote in his book “Achieving Our Country.”

Once that cynicism is shattered, people will begin to get involved. It can be as simple as voting. In Georgia, Stacey Abrams’ voting rights organizations, Fair Fight and the New Georgia Project, played a monumental role in flipping the state during the presidential election in 2020. Presidential elections aren’t the only ones that matter — voting in local elections will directly impact your community more than national races. Change comes from active participants in our democracy. Maybe then, we’ll truly have things to be proud of. Maybe then, patriotism would look like equality and joy, not xenophobia and “us versus them.”

Maryland’s first Black governor, Wes Moore, served in the military before he entered politics. To him, patriotism was based on the bravery of the people who risked their lives to fight for America. Alongside that patriotic belief came the memories of how America has treated his family. His great-grandfather was threatened with lynching for fighting against racism in South Carolina, and Moore’s grandfather fled America to escape.

“I can tell you countless instances of this country’s history of brutality, of inequity, of heartlessness,” Moore said in an interview with Time. “But if I do that without also talking about the other elements of its history, that’s a selective memory that I think is dangerous. Because what this country has meant to my family is that I can literally be the grandson of a man that the Ku Klux Klan ran out, and also, in the same breath, be a person who’s about to become the first Black governor in the history of the state. Both of those things are true. And we can’t look at one without understanding the other.”

The reality is that this country has never been good to everyone, has never been a place that everyone could be proud of. It probably never will be, but it can get better. That’s what patriotism is about — recognizing all aspects of your country (the good, the bad and the ugly) and choosing to care about it anyways.

So acknowledge America’s successes along with its faults. There are, in fact, some things to be grateful for. We are free. We are still educated and privileged — especially in San Ramon. We live in an extremely wealthy area in a high-performing school district. It is undeniable that this country guarantees certain basic freedoms to every citizen, at least in name. We live in a country that consistently ranks lowly, compared to other developed nations, in terms of rates violence against women, discriminatory norms and average education of women. 

I’m not saying we can put on rose-colored glasses and tune out everything wrong with the country. Instead, take some pride in things that go right, get off your heels and start fixing the things that are going wrong. Stop falling on the old, tired habits of complacency and cynicism. Take a stand. Be a patriot.