Defining patriotism today


By Alex Swanson

While attending a private dinner for Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani stated, “I do not believe, and I know this is a horrible thing to say — but I do not believe that the president loves America.” 

He then went on to clarify that he does in fact believe President Barack Obama is a patriot, he just doesn’t think he loves America.

Personally, I found that clarification confusing. I’ve always considered patriotism and loving your country to be inextricable. However, Giuliani argues that Obama is too critical of America to love it.

I feel that his statement is absurd, as is his reasoning. Criticism of something is not necessarily indicative of dislike, or even indifference towards it.

Loving something does not mean that you cannot imagine any area for improvement. A great musician would never stop practicing and improving a piece she loves until it’s as close to perfection as possible.

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Further, our country is continually evolving and therefore always presents new challenges to overcome.

To be completely fair, since that time, Giuliani has attempted to explain and soften the comment publicly several times. 

But oddly, this is not the first time that Obama has been criticized for being unpatriotic.

Obama has often been typecasted as a cosmopolitan, or someone at ease with many nations and cultures. This was particularly relevant when he famously identified himself as a “fellow citizen of the world” in his 2008 speech in Berlin.  

However, it seems obvious to me that the desire for better global collaboration is not mutually exclusive or even dissonant with patriotism.

A better world clearly makes for a better country.

This all leads to a question I had while reading about these debates: What does it mean to love your country?

Most of us regard patriotism as an important trait. We should be proud of where we come from; we should want to support a country and a society that values freedom.

But when I started to think about patriotism, it was difficult for me to fully define what that meant, and it was troubling to consider that I value a concept that I actually may not fully grasp.

On Monday, I stood just outside the Illini Union and asked other University students walking by to offer their opinion on my question.

Rebecca Demski, a sophomore in LAS, argued that patriotism is supporting your country.

“Just promote equality and promote the values of the Constitution,” Demski said. “Support the troops, actually I think that would be an act of patriotism.” 

Andres Romero, a junior in LAS considered patriotism a broad concept.

“Abiding (by) the laws…Making sure that you do your part,” Romero said. “I think it’s about just being a good person.”

In a manner very relevant to Giuliani’s comment, Emma Lazar, a freshman in Business, stated that patriotism in not necessarily flamboyant.

“Patriotism to me is loving your country,” Lazar said. “You don’t necessarily have to be gung-ho about it and wear red, white and blue. But, you can love it for the melting pot of different cultures. You can love it for its innovations and advancements.”

I agree with all of them. And further, for me, believing your country is perfect is not a prerequisite to patriotism or to loving your country. To me, these definitions further disprove Giuliani’s comments.

America is by no means perfect with issues regarding to race, gender, sexual orientation, wealth distribution, education, etc.

So we must work to improve and work to make our country better. I say this because I love what America stands for, ideologically. I love the American Dream.

I am extraordinarily thankful to live in America today. I am glad to live in a state controlled by a democratic, stable government. I’m thankful to have troops that protect us. I’m thankful to be able to go to school and get an education safely, as was all alluded to in the student quotes.

But, I also strongly recognize that the American Dream, and what America stands for, is juxtaposed with the reality that many citizens in America face. Because of racism, sexism, homophobia, wealth distribution and unequal education, etc., I don’t believe that the American Dream is feasible for everyone in this country.

However, that doesn’t mean that an ideal America shouldn’t be something that we work to move continually closer to.

It is true that Obama criticizes aspects of America — and that is wholly necessary since they are in need of improvement.  

So yes, in short, I do consider Obama to be a patriot.

Alex is a junior in LAS.

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