The True Meaning of Patriotism
Robert B. Reich
Recently I publicly debated someone who said
For my debating partner, patriotism is about securing the nation from outsiders eager to overrun us -- whether they're immigrants coming here illegally or foreign powers threatening us with aggression.
But there's another meaning to patriotism that may be more important. It's joining together for the common good -- contributing to a bake sale to raise money for a local school, volunteering in a homeless shelter, paying our fair share of taxes so our community or nation has enough resources to meet all our needs, preserving and protecting our system of government.
This second meaning of patriotism recognizes our responsibilities to one another as citizens of a society. It requires collaboration, teamwork, tolerance and selflessness.
But too often these days we're not practicing this second form of patriotism. We're shouting at each other rather than coming together -- conservative versus liberal, Democrat versus Republican, native-born versus foreign-born, non-unionized versus unionized, religious versus secular.
Our politics has grown nastier and meaner. Negative advertising is filling the airwaves this election year. We're learning more about why we shouldn't vote for someone than why we should.
Some elected officials have substituted partisanship for patriotism, placing party loyalty above loyalty to America. Just after the 2010 election, the
Our system of government is America's most precious and fragile possession, the means we have of joining together as a nation for the common good. It requires not only our loyalty but ongoing vigilance to keep it working well. Yet some of our elected representatives act as if they don't care what happens to it as long as they achieve their partisan aims.
The filibuster used to be rarely used. But over the last decade, the threat of a filibuster has become standard operating procedure, virtually shutting down the
Meanwhile, some members of the
Some members of
True patriots don't hate the government of
But these days, some Americans loathe the government -- and are doing everything they can to paralyze it, starve it, and make the public so cynical about it that it's no longer capable of doing much of anything. Tea Partiers are out to gut it entirely. Norquist says he wants to shrink it down to a size where it can be "drowned in a bathtub."
When arguing against paying their fair share of taxes, some wealthy Americans claim "it's my money." They forget it's their nation, too. And unless they pay their fair share of taxes, America can't meet the basic needs of our people. True patriotism means paying for America.
So when you hear people talk about "preserving and protecting" the nation, be warned. They may mean securing our nation's borders, not securing our society. Within those borders, each of us is on our own. These people don't want a government that actively works for all our citizens.
Yet true patriotism isn't mainly about excluding outsiders seen as our common adversaries. It's about coming together for our common good.
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