In President Trump’s inaugural address, he called on Americans to “open their hearts to patriotism,” and shortly after, signed an executive order declaring a “national day of patriotic devotion.” It therefore seems timely to consider what patriotism is and to what extent it benefits our nation.
Patriotism typically is understood to be a love or devotion to one’s country, and is associated with loyalty and nationalism. The feelings one has toward his or her home country are heavily predicated on the leadership of that country at the moment. Those who feel a sense of pride and loyalty toward the country itself seem to have shifted from one party to the other as a result of our recent election. It is past time we separate patriotism from politics and better understand what patriotism really is: a deep faith in reason.
Our nation’s philosophical and historical roots bear out our unique loyalty to reason. The foundational principles that form the bedrock of our most sacred documents (the Declaration of Independence and Constitution) are born out of Classical and Enlightenment ideals. The Romans provided a republican government and citizenship. From the British came natural rights, the social contract and popular sovereignty.
Our success as a country has been based on weaving all of these ideas together and fostering a marketplace of ideas in which vigorous and open-minded discourse has led to reflection and, ultimately, reasonable conclusions when we needed them most. History has proved it to work. Our Declaration of Independence and Constitution were the products of endless debate. Abraham Lincoln’s team of rivals may have saved the union. The debate within John F. Kennedy’s Cabinet during the Cuban Missile Crisis may have saved the world. When we rely on reason, we prevail.
Augusta University assistant political science professor Dr. Craig Albert argues in his Jan. 25 Augusta Chronicle column (“Trump speech struck right chord of patriotism”): “Regardless of political persuasion, it is righteous, good and just to support one’s country to the best of one’s ability. It is honorable to think the best of whoever assumes the reins of power.”
This argument suggests that whoever assumes the reins of power is worthy of honor. Historically, we know that at least a few of our presidents were not so deserving. Does our newly elected president deserve our loyalty and support? Let the facts be submitted to a candid world:
Trump did not win the popular vote; he lost by almost 3 million votes. He does not reflect the voice of the people.
Trump attacks basic constitutional values. He does not support freedom of the press when the press is critical of him, or the voice of the people who oppose him (Sen. John McCain, Jeb Bush, Mitt Romney, etc.).
Trump has called immigrants rapists (we are a nation of immigrants).
Trump has recently demanded political vetting of Environmental Protection Agency press releases. This may be designed to strengthen our markets, but it does not fit with the American “marketplace of ideas,” and certainly does not reflect faith in reason.
Trump has joked about being able to take advantage of women because of his status. This does not reflect the honorable use of power, civil rights or gender equality.
Trump has proposed term limits for Congress. Weakening Congress in this way violates checks and balances, and moves us away from republican democracy.
Trump uses his platform to spread “alternative facts.” He claimed he saw Muslims celebrating during 9/11; that Ted Cruz’s father could have been connected to the Kennedy assassination; that his inauguration was larger than President Obama’s; etc. This type of deception is unheard of in the modern era and has no place in a democratic society.
Trump publicly encouraged Russia to hack the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton campaign emails. That’s not patriotism; it’s treasonous.
Trump has proclaimed his admiration for Russian President Vladimir Putin’s strength, and encouraged nuclear proliferation of foreign countries. The Doomsday Clock is now closer to midnight. These are not the behaviors of a leader who wants to strengthen America’s geopolitical standing.
Many understand patriotism to be loyalty to our president, or to the country itself. But what makes the United States truly unique is our loyalty to reason. And this is why Trump’s brand of patriotism should concern Democrats and Republicans alike. He would move us away from faith in reason and toward faith in authority. He does not come to reasonable conclusions based on discourse, debate and reflection.
It is patriotic to protest his abuse of power, and history will absolve those who do.
(The writers — former students of Augusta University assistant political science professor Dr. Craig Albert — are high-school social studies teachers in Tolland, Conn.)