Image via Unsplash- Wesley Tingley

The United States Has a Patriotism Problem

Patriotism is different for everyone and is frequently misinterpreted in America

2020 is not just the year of the COVID-19 pandemic. It also appears to be when the United States is starting to tackle some of their most polarizing issues head on. In particular, the Black Lives Matter movement has inspired wide-spread signs of solidarity from professional athletes, including a variety of actions like kneeling and other symbols of silent protest during the performance of the national anthem. Despite broad support, this has also triggered some into anger over what they perceive as symbols of disrespect and a lack of American pride. If nothing else, these reactions have fully pulled the curtain back on the problem this country has with patriotism, which is probably not what many may think.

The furor over those kneeling and performing other symbolic gestures during the national anthem has only grown as more athletes and professional sports leagues get on board with bringing awareness to ending racism and police brutality. It cannot be a coincidence that the seeming confusion opponents have over what is and isn’t patriotic are regarding actions aimed at changing the balance of power in this country.

The United States was founded on a collection of ideals, which include liberty, equality, freedom of speech and freedom of assembly among others. Clearly, we have fallen short in some of these areas, but to be American and to be patriotic, there is no wiggle room on the acceptance of those qualifications. People who can’t get right with that are something else altogether.

Claiming that kneeling or doing anything besides standing during the playing of the anthem is disrespectful or unpatriotic is actually an act of anti-patriotism itself. To deny or deride somebody for their Constitutional rights goes against the very principals the country were founded on. There is no requirement to be in agreement, but individual rights must be respected.

A common argument is that “disrespecting” the flag is to disrespect the sacrifices of American soldiers. However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. If those who have served militarily are more concerned about protecting the sanctity of the flag over the preservation of American rights and ideals, then they are sadly very short-sighted in their reasoning.

Trying to compel another’s patriotism isn’t patriotism at all. It’s nationalism, which is an entirely different thing altogether. So, if it isn’t about patriotism, then what is it?

Of course, the kneeling opposition is more about some, either consciously or unconsciously, being opposed to those who would seek to fight racism and police brutality, which have both strongly contributed to keeping a power imbalance in this country. The fear of change can be real, even for those who may have convinced themselves that their opposition is for some different reason.

If the kerfuffle over the anthem and the flag was about patriotism, then why hasn’t it spilled over into similar acts of “disrespect?” At ball games, people routinely use the playing of the anthem to visit the bathroom or go and freshen up their beer and nachos. The flag is used widely as an emblem, including items such as handkerchiefs, swimsuits and underwear. Surely, blowing your nose on the flag isn’t the act of a patriot.

America has a problem (definitely more than one) with its the growing conflation of patriotism and racism. In some instances, this may be intentional and others unconscious bias. For anyone truly patriotic, who want to preserve American ideals, they should go back to basics and re-read the Constitution. Perhaps then, they may see that even if they may not fully agree or understand at the moment, the people they are so unhappy about and unaccepting of when it comes to their anthem actions are actually living out American ideals to an even fuller extent than they are.

Dabbler in history & writing. Master’s degree in baseball history. Passionate about diversity, culture, sports, investing and education.

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