What is Patriotism?

Updated: Aug 10

Last week, we talked about taking back the flag. This week—what does it mean to be a patriot?

“Our Country Right or Wrong!”

Republican Rants about Treason Misrepresent the True Meaning of Patriotism By Thomas Sonandres, Cave Creek and member of Black Mountain Dems and Friends with assistance from Suzanne Mead, LD1 Vice Chair. Once heralded as an affirmation of one’s love for one’s country, “our country right or wrong” has not always been taken for granted. Some Americans have questioned U.S. policy of nation-building in foreign lands and the value or morality of unpopular wars. Others have offered complete loyalty to the country’s leadership and touted the concept of the means justifying the end without questioning the right or wrong of it. More recently, self-styled “patriots” and “Oathkeepers” charged the Capitol with the intent of “saving the country from traitors.” In the Republican lexicon, the term traitor is the opposite of patriot and can be used to describe just about anyone who defies the will of Trump, espouses racial equity, or threatens to take away one’s guns. The label has been applied to a growing number of Republicans and of course to all Democrats.

Some history:

The original phrase “our country right or wrong!” has been attributed to Stephen Decatur, a celebrated early American naval hero. It smacked of blind love for a country by a zealous soldier.

The phrase gained much popularity over the century, but eventually struck Senator Carl Schurz (R-MO) as sorely inadequate, if not dangerously jingoistic. To deafening applause in the Senate gallery on Feb. 29, 1872, Senator Schurz pronounced:


“My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”


The first German native to serve in the U.S. Senate, Schurz earned a reputation for his speeches, which advocated for fiscal responsibility, anti-imperialism, and integrity in government. While he ventured briefly on the wrong side of Reconstruction and Indian Affairs, he can be credited for espousing a definition of patriotism that has great relevance today. He said:

It is no surprise that Americans have different views on what it means to be patriotic. We know what it is not. (Mounting a violent assault on the Capitol to capture and hang members of Congress and overturn an election.) And we have seen too many examples where patriotism as my country right or wrong has morphed into nationalism with its attempts to cover up, rewrite, and erase history in favor of a ruling minority class, seen currently in legislation outlawing the teaching of “critical race theory." Think of Germany before and after fascist and communist rule ended.

So, what does “patriotism” mean?

  • Patriotism means honoring our founding principles and the ideals and aspirations embedded in the symbolism of our flag. The stripes represent the 13 original colonies declaring independence from the Kingdom of Great Britain. The stars of the 50 states are found on the blue canton, the corner or square originally referred to as a union" or "new constellation." The colors from heraldry originally represented purity and innocence (white); hardiness and valor (red); and vigilance, perseverance, and justice (blue). Source: Wikipedia

  • Patriotism means democracy not hypocrisy; loving your country more than your ideology (party, religion, tribal, ethnic, or racial affiliation). It means displaying your patriotism if you want to, but not being forced to do so.

  • Patriotism means loving what makes America special: its diversity, its opportunity, its role in the world, and a history of peaceful transfers of power that has lasted from the founding until, but finally through the tragic Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. Source: USA Today, 2 Feb, 2021

  • The U.S. flag and flagpole as symbols of American patriotism are for all citizens of all political beliefs to display, not to use as too many did as a weapon to attack Capitol Police or to threaten public servants unwilling to buy into the big lie.

  • Patriotism means to stand by the country, not to stand by the President or any other public official. Source: Theodore Roosevelt

  • Patriotism means knowing and understanding our past, the immense good and the sometimes bad, and the highest moments as well as the darkest, neither ignoring nor staying silent about its failures.