As was the case for many Americans, the election of Donald J. Trump transformed my understanding of this country. I was brought up in a family that proudly waved the flag and knew the words to every patriotic song.
As a young boy, my heart swelled with pride for my country every Fourth of July as the Austin Symphony Orchestra masterfully played the 1812 Overture and Texas-sized fireworks exploded overhead. In school, I dutifully and earnestly recited the Pledge of Allegiance with my hand over my heart every morning after the bell rang.
Mine was — by the way — a SOLID blue household.
Of course, as a young person, it is much easier to have unqualified pride in something so complicated as a country. But even then, it wasn’t the flag itself, our military or the president that served as the focus of my pride. Mine was not a puffed-up patriotism of Blue Angel flyovers but a pride in our national progress — the continuous, though lurching, forward momentum that was made possible by the ideals enshrined in our Constitution.
America was equality. America was liberty. America was justice. America was truth. My heroes were Lincoln, FDR, Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King Jr. That hasn’t really changed.
Over time, obviously, my highly positive conception of America was challenged, and my fervor was dampened as I learned about the darker passages of the American story. And there are plenty of them. But it wasn’t until the presidency of Donald Trump that I finally came to understand that America could truly careen into permanent darkness.
The fact is, America can devolve. Demagoguery, disinformation and propaganda are extremely powerful — powerful enough to overcome the gravitational pull of justice and equality.
But we can’t let that happen.
And we do have the power to stop it. The MAGA movement wastes their love of country on the worship of a man and, consequently, the long legacy of hate that he embodies. Don’t mistake their nationalism for true patriotism.
Patriotism in this era is an action, not a label. It’s something you do. Patriotism means staying informed, questioning your sources of news, and doing your best to discern truth from falsehood. Patriotism means standing up and calling out injustice. It means mobilizing your friends and family and neighbors and coworkers to do the same. It means leading with compassion, and not contempt.
It means recognizing the imminent threat to American democracy and refusing to retreat or tune out as our freedoms are whittled away. Because once they’re gone, we may not get them back.
Patriotism isn’t about how many flags you wave. It’s about staying as civically engaged and informed as possible, and taking that responsibility seriously.
Join Patriots Believe & DemCast USA in our effort to reclaim our flag and the honor of being called a patriot.
We want to know what patriotism means to you!
Tag us with #PatriotsBelieve on Twitter, TikTok or other socials, or go old school and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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