In 2018, America's Patriotism Reflects History

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In divided times like these, it’s hard to gauge one’s true feelings about this country of ours. Does my opposition to the people in power end with them, or does it go deeper into the very fiber of our institutions? Can my criticisms be construed as contempt for the United States?  How does one separate the country from the people governing it? These are questions that many Americans inevitably ask themselves as they just cannot bear to pick up the paper for fear of what some people are doing to their beloved land. So that forces us to ask, what does it mean to be patriotic in 2018?

This issue is especially relevant during the Olympics, when citizens put aside their differences to come together and support their fellow countrymen who have persevered to the international stage. Citizens in my hometown of Rocky River, Ohio have put aside petty political differences and cheered on our own Red Gerrard as he won a gold medal in men's Slopestyle. But this years Olympics have a slightly tainted tone, as I discussed in my previous article 2018 Winter Olympics: Politics at PyeongChang, as members of the Trump administration distract fans from the pageantry of the events.  

When you’re innocently trying to watch men’s figure skating and the announcers inevitably bring up the public spat between skater Adam Rippon and Vice President Mike Pence and your head instinctively falls into your palm, does that make you un-American? Or are you just tired of the partisanship that you’ve had to put up with the past 13 months and, correctly, thought the safest place from political division would be the men’s figure skating semifinals at the Winter Olympics? People aren't unpatriotic, they’re just fatigued.  

There was a point for many people after the election when they were all fulfilling their civic duty and doing their best to expose the problems they saw playing out in national politics. Not everybody had the platform necessary to effect a change, but they did what they could. They retweeted, posted, commented and a select few even summoned the strength and the forty-five seconds necessary to actually call their representatives. But then the news just kept going, despite our best efforts. The news kept piling up and it became so difficult to keep up on a day-to-day basis, let alone risk whiplash by trying to look back and remember what happened last week.

But being patriotic does not mean rejoicing when one of Trump’s policies gets struck down by the Supreme Court.  Nor does it mean throwing a military parade for the defeat of Democratic policies. Schadenfreude is not patriotic, hell it’s not even English. What is truly American is the willingness to come together as a nation to fight for those things that we can all agree on (and yes they do exist). For example, as a nation we protect our children. Whether those children are citizens or not, as Americans we recognize our responsibility to protect these kids who have grown up in America and enjoyed the same freedoms and breathed the same air as any natural-born citizen. Now, as the debate over what to do about Dreamers gets underway, it is actually possible to see some unity in Washington. It’s more rare than an eclipse, so grab your crazy, good-every-40-years-glasses and enjoy these fleeting moment of bipartisan care for our nation’s most vulnerable. That is patriotism.

Party politics are not patriotic. It is not in the tradition of the United States to declare your values, only to throw them away when you elect somebody who betrays those values. We are Americans damnit. If somebody is not looking out for our best interests, we don’t just sit back and pretend to change our position.  We get off our asses and throw some tea into a harbor. If you’ve lived your life clinging to the notion of a limited national government, you cannot suddenly become complacent with the idea of the government telling you what foods to eat if you need its assistance to survive.  

Being American means standing up for what you believe in, not just resigning to the whim of a leader you only elected because he almost sounded like what you wanted. “When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another,” does not translate today into “just lie down and take it for another four years and maybe you’ll get a nice tax break out of it.” Somewhere along the way, maybe with all of our modern day distractions (yes I’m 20 years old and I’m already saying that), we as a nation lost our passion for government.  

But what is the answer? How does one go beyond quoting a New York Times article with outrage and then simply going back to the day-to-day?  Simply put: there needs to be compassion. When Donald Trump was first elected, I was talking to a friend of mine who didn’t really care one way or another. “Nothing is gonna happen to us,” he said. And he had a point. Being white, middle-class millenials from the suburbs, there weren’t terribly many threats or incentives offered to us in the immediate future during the campaign. But that is exactly the attitude of passivity that has bread the lethargic attitude towards government and the nation as a whole. As Americans, every fight is our fight. Whether or not you will be directly affected by the administration’s plan to slash the budget for public schools, somewhere down the line it will have an impact on you. If you’re planning on sending your kids to private schools (which will get increased funding in said budget plan), what about your nephews and nieces? Your friends? Your future coworkers? We cannot simply sit back and watch as every house on the block is decimated while our own lawn remains lush and full.

Being compassionate does not mean being complacent. Regardless of what party is in power or what you are registered as, there are always ways that our country can improve. Even Rome fell eventually.