Recently, I faced pushback for using the word “patriotism” on my website. A family member said he reads the word “patriotism” as “fascism”; it reminds him of the horrors that excess nationalism brought in Nazi Germany. Many people on the left share the horror of the word “patriotism”.
First of all, what is patriotism, and what isn’t it? The left and the right have very different ideas about what the word means. The left seem to think that patriotism means “my country, right or wrong”. This is an incomplete quote from Missouri Sen. Carl Schurz in the 1870s. The rest of the quote adds much needed context, “if right, to be kept right, and if wrong, to be set right.” The difference between only hearing the first part of this quote alone, and understanding the full quote in context isn’t hard to miss. Does being patriotic mean that you excuse the bad things your country has done, or turn a blind eye to sins it is now committing? Does being patriotic mean you think your country is blameless, or that might makes right? The left seem to think so.
To be sure, there are extremists on the far right who would defend the sins of our country in the name of patriotism. However, that is not my experience of what most people who embrace the idea of patriotism mean. Seeing as only one side of the political aisle embraces the word in our current political climate, as well as how polarized Americans are, the word has become a red flag for the left. The Trump years only exacerbated this division. The more the left see the so-called ‘deplorables’ waving flags and promoting patriotism, the more they recoil from and demonize the very idea, when in reality, patriotism used to be an idea, and should again become an idea, that is nonpartisan, that unites all of us, no matter creed, ethnicity, race, or political party. The extreme polarization our nation faces in these times is exactly the reason why we need a common thread more than ever. A nation cannot survive without the glue of a shared bond holding it together. We are at a point in our history where the threat of being torn apart is a very real possibility. We need a unifying patriotism more than ever.
Why is it necessary for the United States, in particular, to value patriotism? No other country in the world needs patriotism the way the U.S. needs patriotism right now. Other countries are much more homogenous than we are, they share a religion, ethnicity, or a culture. The US stands out in this regard as the most heterogeneous country the world has ever seen. There are many different cultures occupying the US depending on your location in this vast nation. East coast vs. west coast, rural vs. urban, so-called ‘fly-over country’ vs. coastal elites, southerners vs. northerners, and this is before we even mention immigrant enclaves and religious sects. We have 330 million people, with wildly different religious beliefs or lack thereof. We have citizens from all over the world with a multitude of different cultures, customs, and values.
A nation cannot hold together without a common, shared thread. The more heterogeneous a country is ethnically, religiously, racially, and culturally, the more crucial it is for its citizens to share love of country. For this reason, Americans need patriotism more than any other country in the world.