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Copyright © 2001, 2003, 2004, 2007, 2008, 2020 by David E. Ross

During the primary campaigns leading up to the 2008 Presidential election, the patriotism of U.S. Senator Barack Obama was strongly questioned. In the eyes of some opponents, he committed two unpatriotic sins.

16 March 2008

cartoon, man wearing large U.S. flag with pole through lapel buttonhole, caption 'In this time of great crisis for our country, lapel pins are simply NOT ENOUGH!'

I approach patriotism the same way I practice my religion, not with public displays of symbols — waving the flag or singing "God Bless America" — but by living my life as an example.

Patriotism means to stand by the country. It does not mean to stand by the president or any other public official, save exactly to the degree in which he himself stands by the country. It is patriotic to support him insofar as he efficiently serves the country. It is unpatriotic not to oppose him to the exact extent that by inefficiency or otherwise he fails in his duty to stand by the country. In either event, it is unpatriotic not to tell the truth, whether about the president or anyone else.

Theodore Roosevelt

Irving Berlin was one of our nation's greatest song writers of the 20th century. However, his "God Bless America" (not quite as popular as his "White Christmas") is dreadful. Unlike other patriotic songs, it fails to create a vision of America the way it really is or the way we would like it to be. It fails to inspire us with any image of historical victory. This song does not ennoble the people — collectively or individually — who have made our nation great, invoke our nation's spirit, or glorify our ideals. There is nothing of our nation's heritage in "God Bless America".

Yes, "God Bless America" is much easier to sing than "The Star Spangled Banner". It would have been embarrassing if our Congressmen — assembled on the steps of the Capitol — had fumbled singing our national anthem. But "America the Beautiful" is also easier than "The Star Spangled Banner" while also reminding us of why our nation is indeed special. Even "This Land is My Land, This Land is Your Land" glorifies the United States more than "God Bless America".

waving flag The patriotism of flag wavers is quite different from my patriotism. Yes, flag wavers love our nation. For many flag wavers, however, waving the flag is their only patriotic activity. This makes me very uncomfortable. Waving a flag does not really make someone a patriot any more than singing "Danny Boy" makes someone Irish.

I have a special problem with those who fly flags from their automobiles. In general, flags are displayed on automobiles contrary to the rules of flag etiquette codified in law (4 USC Chapter 1):

Besides failing to abide by "flag etiquette", too many flag wavers also ignore "road etiquette". They tail-gate, weave in and out without signaling, and drive through red signals. Flying a flag (or sometime two flags) while driving that way does not make them patriots. Instead, they are merely rude slobs. Or are they trying to show that real Americans are road bullies? They have no appreciation for the image they present while displaying the symbol of our nation, tying their behavior to a definition of America. This, too, is disrespectful of our flag.

Overall, too many "patriots" who fly the flag from their automobiles show as much disrespect for the flag as those who would burn the flag to protest our government's actions. I suspect that they are motivated primarily by a need to show off. They approach patriotism the same way that hypocrites approach religion, making a big show about going to church but, in their daily lives, hating their neighbors and refusing to give to charity.

No, I do not own a flag. I don't need a flag to be a patriot.

What kind of patriot are you? Do you live patriotism? Or do you only indulge in the public showing of empty symbols?

14 October 2001
Updated 4 July 2004, 26 October 2007, 5 November 2020

Al Martinez, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, is a patriot. This can be seen in his 5 July column, in which he describes our right to refuse to join the popular crowd.

7 July 2003

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