Famously, British writer Samuel Johnson once said, "Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel," and American writer and cynic Ambrose Bierce followed up on the subject with, "I beg to submit that it is the first."
Last night, as my attempts to fall asleep were repeatedly interrupted by fireworks being shot off on Bennington Street (I wasn't upset; after all, it was the 4th), I was thinking about the how the term "patriotism" is regarded by most Americans. Unfortunately, many have come to conflate meaningless gestures with this principle.
If some enjoy flying an American flag or wearing one on a lapel or slapping a yellow-ribbon bumper sticker on a car or even saying the Pledge of Allegiance, that's fine, but it's not patriotism. Likewise, it's ridiculous that our presidential candidates feel the need to appear on stages with umpteen flags behind them, as though more stars and stripes means more love of country.
It's also nonsensical -- and outrageous -- that any American should shout another down by saying that he or she isn't patriotic. The "love it or leave it" argument is infantile and irrational. Nothing would ever be improved if that idea were embraced by everyone.
In fact, those who are really patriotic, I think, are people who are constantly questioning the policies and actions of their government and their fellow citizens. The most patriotic path one can follow, as far as I am concerned, is to keep oneself up to date as to what is going on in the country and the world -- to read, listen, watch, discuss and think about public policy, foreign affairs, politics and the actions of local, state and federal governments -- and to advocate for what one believes is right.
I think that Theodore Roosevelt had the same thing in mind when he said, "To announce that 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."