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Dean Minnich: Take a look at the American patriot

I've had just about enough of the abuse of two terms that are tossed out there in the current political discourse: "The American People want (or don't want)" and "real patriots."

Enough. The whole predication of the existence of the United States of America is that no one person or political party or faction or backroom power broker gets to define what the American people want. Different Americans want different things, and the whole idea is to have a country where we can work things out without changing the government every six months or having bloody civil wars over differences.

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How long that will last is beginning to be a topic for serious discussion.

As for the definition of a patriot, you don't get to define patriotism in your own image; that's too limited.

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So what is the definition? Let's not use the tea party, please. Nor the radicals on the Left, who tried mightily 30 years ago to kill the very ideal of patriotism. Let's go to a supposedly neutral arbiter of long standing: The Dictionary.

The Random House Webster's College Dictionary that rests next to my work station defines a patriot as one who loves, supports and defends his or her country and its interests.

It does not say anything about how that individual expresses that love, support and defense of the country's interests. Nothing about race, gender or sexual identification, religion, financial or social status, intelligence or regional - even national - origin.

In short, contrary to what you might think if you don't change your TV or radio dial from time to time, you don't have to be a white protestant middle class (or wealthy) business person from the heartland of America to be a patriot.

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You could be, say, a young black woman in a city in Alabama who believes that being an American means you don't have to sit in the back of the bus just because white folks say so. So to be a patriot is to stand up - in her case, to take a seat - for what America stands for.

You might be a patriot if you believe that the Statue of Liberty's invitation to the world is not limited to Irish, Italians, Jews and other refugees from oppression around the world. It also extends to migrant workers from Asia or the southern hemisphere who want to plant roots here and join the tradition of earning citizenship in a nation that values not only individual effort, but a unified respect and protection of that person and his family.

You can be a patriot if you're living on the street, homeless - especially if you are one of the thousands of veterans who, after rotation upon rotation into hostile fire, returned to find there were no jobs for them, and not enough money being invested in programs to get them going again.

You're a patriot - not just a liberal - if you work in a soup kitchen or shelter to serve those homeless veterans.

The American flag is stars and stripes, not stars and bars. Some tried to make that other flag a symbol of exceptionalism, and the nation settled the dispute with the blood of several hundred thousand young men. Discussion over.

You can love your stars and bars and still be a patriot, but so can the Native American love his cultural roots and be a patriot. You can love your Hispanic heritage, your black history, and still stand for the American ideals represented in the Constitution.

You can be Muslim or Buddhist or Hindu and be a patriot. You can be atheist or agnostic and be a patriot. I didn't say so; the Constitution did.

And - this is just my opinion - here's something else to chew on: Patriotism is not the highest ideal. It's just one quality that defines a person's values, and needs to be combined with honesty, integrity, fairness, charity and a devotion to justice for all.

Patriotism is a high virtue, but often misrepresented. Too often, it is confused with jingoism.

Webster's says jingoism is belligerent and bellicose - warlike, contentious, hate-filled.

So are you a patriot, or a jingoist?

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