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Reclaiming Patriotism in Today’s America

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As a teenager, I had an American flag bandanna I’d wear on my head – not for any particular ideological reason, I just liked it. My grandmother, on the other hand, was not a fan.

“If your grandfather could see you now, he’d roll over in his grave.”

My grandfather, who served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, from 1938 to 1949, saw the flag as something much more sacred than I could wrap my younger brain around. As the son of an immigrant mother who fled civil war in the Ukraine, the flag was a symbol of opportunity and survival, something to fight and sacrifice for. As a veteran, it was a symbol that conjured both pride and pain – something to reflect on solemnly.

To him, the flag’s only rightful place was up on a pole to be flown proudly or folded with care to honor the fallen. It was not meant to be a bumper sticker or be worn as part of a costume. Like many in our older generations, he was a Republican.

Oh, if he could see us now…

I often think about what my grandmother said to me when this time of year rolls around, as a large chunk of the nation descend on parks and waterfronts all sparkled out in a cosplay show of “patriotism.” In the time since those dense teenage years, I’d look around and wonder if we’d forgotten what it really means to be a patriot. Today, I don’t have the luxury of wondering.

In large part, the concept of patriotism has been appropriated by a specific segment of Americans and in doing so, they’ve destroyed the meaning. They’ve created a subculture around the flag that betrays our values and have forgotten that the oath is taken to uphold the Constitution, as a whole. Soldiers and elected officials do not swear to protect whomever is sitting in the White House – they put life and limb on the line for the freedoms guaranteed to all Americans and celebrate alliances we’ve depended on through our darkest days.

In today’s hijacked rendition of patriotism, those treasured symbols have become totems to a cult of personality. Something about worshiping false prophets comes to mind.

Tomorrow is the big Trump show. The fact that I can write those words in reference to the 4th of July is nauseating – and trust me, my Republican grandfather would be just as sickened.

American flag. Photo by Lucas Sankey/Unsplash

The president is readying his tanks and flyovers to flaunt the “strongest and most advanced Military anywhere in the World” as part of the first partisan usurping of the holiday in decades. Make no mistake, the event is a pissing contest and a campaign rally sponsored by our tax dollars, with millions stolen from our parks to facilitate the spectacle.

The man who will deliver the speech on the National Mall Thursday in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial, the man who has perverted our country’s morals and treated our Constitution as toilet paper, is not a patriot. Period. He is blatantly dismissive of basic civil rights, bends to dictators, purposefully divides the nation to boost his ratings and favors foreign adversaries – that is not what my grandfather fought for.

It is easy to stand at a podium and scream “America first!” It is easy to incite a dangerous sense of nationalism and stoke fears.

It is easy to say you’re a patriot, but living up to the responsibility that comes with such a claim is hard. Much like the country’s past, being a true patriot is messy and sometimes uncomfortable. It is compromise, and, yes, compassion for others. It is recognizing that each of those amendments, not just the second one on the list, is meant to apply to us all. It is fighting for the rights of a free press to ensure the future of democracy. It is standing with those who seek refuge here, as our ancestors did. It is the ability to pray or not pray in any way we choose and in recognizing that there is NO recognized national religion, language or race. It is the understanding that people have the right to peacefully gather and protest, whether you agree with the message or not. It’s respecting when someone pledges allegiance to the flag or stands for the National Anthem, and honoring the right not to.

It takes grit to stand on the right side of history and with our fellow citizens, knowing that what we allow be done to one group can just as easily be done to us. Patriotism does not belong to any one party and it definitely does not belong to any one president. You don’t prove your loyalty to the country and its values by wearing the most red, white and blue.

Tomorrow, as our mouths are full of barbecue and the kids run around trying to burn each other with sparklers, think for a minute about what it really means to be a patriot and consider proudly reclaiming that title for what it really is.

Happy 4th of July, to all the people. Be good to each other.

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.