Featuring essays by Elizabeth George on the future of our country

A Few Thoughts on the Subject of Patriotism

I admit that I'm immediately suspicious of anyone who declares himself/herself a patriot because, frankly, I don't believe patriotism is determined by anyone's words. "I love my country" take less than one breath to say and, once said, has no lasting impact on anyone. For me, action is what defines patriotism.

We learned about Nathan Hale in school: the American soldier who, during the Revolutionary War, volunteered to spy upon the British for the Continental Army led by George Washington. He was caught, and before he was executed by hanging, he uttered the famous words: "I only regret that I have but one life to lose [or "to give", depending upon which quotation is used] for my country." He was twenty-one years old. He was--when I was in school--the example of patriotism regularly used in the classroom. What he said was patriotic, yes. Indeed, what he said is what is largely remembered. But it's within what he did that rests his patriotism: to volunteer as a spy for the revolutionaries and to pay for that spying with his life.

Patriotism is found, I believe, in selfless acts. These acts are intended to benefit the whole, not the few. But now we find ourselves caught up and potentially trapped within a society dominated by the individual, and what we're seeing is how single individuals have used their power not to benefit the millions but instead to benefit themselves and those whose interests align with theirs.

A good example of this is Mitch McConnell. He is rated as the most obstructionist Senate Majority Leader in history. He has hundreds of bills from the House on his desk but he won't put any on his calendar. Instead he has spent his time filling the federal courts with far right conservatives.

Why? I heard a simple explanation for this in an interview on Post Reports, the daily podcast from the Washington Post. In the interview, McConnell's agenda was made pellucid. Congress has become so partisan that the two parties cannot work together any longer. So the President uses Executive Orders. If you think about it, that's what Trump has done from his first day in office. Attorneys will then take the government to court over the Executive Orders (the Muslim ban is a good example). If the Federal Courts are packed with far right judges, they will rule in favor of a far right Executive Order, right up to and including the Supreme Court. That's been McConnell's agenda. Why has he done this? Because he doesn't care about the millions. He cares only about the very few.

So I ask: Is he a patriot? Is anyone who serves his or her own interests and the interests of the few a patriot? I don't think so.

This coming election asks a lot of us as voters. Particularly, it asks us to consider the millions and not the few. We have to ask ourselves some critical questions: Do all people in the country deserve health care? Do people who work for minimum wage be given a living wage? Do children deserve three decent meals each day? Do young people of any color or creed or ethnicity or race deserve a good education? Should schools be safe? Should schools be funded? Should women have rights that are equal to men's rights? Should women have access to birth control either to limit the size of their families or not to have a family at all if that is their choice? Should women have control over their bodies and their fates?

For some of us, not one of those questions affects us personally. For some of us, no matter who is in the Presidency, the House, or the Senate, we will be just fine. But I wonder if that's the patriotic way to look at things now.

For being a patriot is not saying something. Being a patriot is doing something. And this second option--the doing--might cost us individually. Thus the question is: What am I willing to do for the millions now that my patriotism is finally being put to the test?

Elizabeth George



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