Opinion | Scott M. Estill: Patriotic duty

Last week, we marked the 20th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Shortly after the attack, Congress designated Sept. 11 to be Patriot Day, which got me to thinking: What exactly does it mean to be a patriot. The dictionary says it is “a person who loves, supports and defends his or her country and its interests with devotion.” It is also “a person who regards himself or herself as a defender, especially of individual rights, against presumed interference by the federal government.”

Seems simple enough, until perceptions and reality get in the way.

Like many labels in America’s us-versus-them mindset, exactly who is a patriot gets very confusing very quickly. And like many questions, the answer depends largely upon who you ask. Were the more than 600 people charged with crimes Jan. 6 in our nation’s Capitol patriots or terrorists? Were they showing devotion to their country by trying to overturn free and fair election results or simply thugs determined to destroy? Our former president thinks they were “great patriots,” perhaps because they loved a country that was conditioned upon a love for himself.

What about Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to protest racial injustice? Our ex-president again weighed in, suggesting that protesting racial injustice was not patriotic and that Kaepernick (and other NFL players) should be fired and leave the country. And what about the American Patriot Party itself? On its website, you can explore talks by a man who sells pillows and view a different narrative about what happened on 9/11.

Is it possible to be a patriot and march with the Confederate flag — a flag that represents significantly more than a nod to slavery and the very unpatriotic notion of seceding from America? Can a white supremacist or neo-Nazi be an American patriot if they simply profess a love for our country, even though they may wish to do harm to a substantial portion of the population? Is it fair to say that those who want to overturn election results based upon no evidence are doing so because they love their country and are devoted to protecting it, however misguided they may be? If taking down a legitimate government is the way to defend this country, is it patriotic?

Being a patriot includes recent refugees in addition to those who were already living in our great country. I have had the privilege of working with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, Somalia and many other countries, and I have easily concluded that nearly all these individuals are more patriotic than the average U.S. born-and-raised citizen. They love America and are more than devoted to the freedom offered to all who seek it. Yet, how many Americans think that a recent refugee from Kabul living in the U.S can be an American patriot?

I think the key to understanding this issue is the ability to separate country from government. It is very easy to love this country. Apparently, it is not so easy to love all its people. And to profess open hostility and hatred to certain groups of Americans is never patriotic. It seems the time is ripe to take back the patriot label from those who wish to destroy certain elements of society.

If you do not support the rights and responsibilities of all Americans, you are not a patriot.

Malcom X once said we should not “be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or says it.” And I think this should be the goal of our country post-9/11. Love the country but do not be blindly pro-American. Perhaps look instead to the U.S being an unfinished and somewhat rough work in progress. To be patriotic requires us to look at America through a lens that is both honest and just and not clouded by nationalistic indoctrination.

It is patriotic to love America but reject the propaganda, lies and disinformation that masks as patriotism today. Patriotism demands that we work for a better society for all Americans. It is our duty as patriots to do so.

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