Opinion: A few words on American patriotism

Daniel Henderson

Former President Theodore Roosevelt routinely takes top five in most political experts’ lists of “Great American Presidents.” His wisdom lives on in many of his immortal words, none more important than when he explained: “To announce there must be no criticism of the president, or that we are to stand by the president, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American Public.”  

Though an inspiring quote on its own, it’s made even more relevant by the political rhetoric of the last several months.

The notion that Americans should “get over” President Donald Trump’s victory – that we need to “shut up and unify” behind him – is far from the patriotism espoused by Roosevelt, a man 20 times more deserving of that title than President Trump.

This is not a new phenomenon. Some in the GOP have hijacked the idea of patriotism to suit their message for years.

And honestly, it’s worked. It’s worked really well.

Republicans are “real Americans”– they love their country so much, they never want it to change. Republicans, not Democrats, care about the American flag, keep bald eagles as pets and bleed red, white and blue – or so they would have you believe.

Patriotism doesn’t mean blindly supporting one’s nation. Patriotism, rather, is the love of one’s country– a vigorous love.

A country is so much more than a plot of land with arbitrary lines. It’s a society of laws and values. It’s defined by the actions of its people, more than its location on a map.

I believe in the American promise that we, as a country and as a people, will always strive to live better than our parents did and make sure our kids live better than us.        

We as a country have never been perfect; the road to progress has been hard, and it’s paved with the blood of radical patriots. Patriotic men and women who dared to look in the face of a king and declare self-governance, patriotic women who rallied and fought for the right to vote, patriotic men and women who stood on a bridge in Selma demanding equal protection under the law.

The examples are endless, but the stories all share the same theme: people who truly love this country are willing to change it. We are a country founded and protected by radicals and revolutionaries who dare to dream of making a difference.        

This is patriotism. More than waving a flag or beating a chest, patriotism is believing we have a chance to improve the lives of our countrymen and being willing to fight for that better life.  

Men and women have not been giving “the last full measure of devotion,” as former President Abraham Lincoln called it, to a country willing to blindly submit to an authoritarian figure.

Americans may disagree, but it is downright unpatriotic for either side to demand citizens of this country bend their knee to someone who demeans them and terrifies them. It’s foolish to assume it’s un-patriotic to be willing to stand up for one’s values in the face of oppression.

This is the very reason we have a democracy worth fighting for – not because we elect infallible leaders, but that they are always beholden to us.

So, no – we patriots will not “get over it” and unify under Trump. We will not twiddle our thumbs while a man who is a threat to civil rights and liberties gets a blank check. We will not shrug our shoulders when our LGBT friends and family are threatened.

We will not allow our journalistic institutions to be bullied and destroyed. We will not let good men and women go to their deaths over avoidable conflicts. We will not watch our world suffer from global climate change. We will not sit down and get over the poor growing poorer while the sick grow sicker.

We will do what American patriots do; we will dare to stand up for the promise of this great country. We will fight and oppose Trump’s agenda anywhere it threatens that promise. We will march, protest, call, write, organize, vote and eventually win.

At the end of the day, progress always wins – progress bought and paid for with the lives and work of American patriots.

This piece was contributed by a member of the College Democrats, Daniel Henderson.