Reclaiming Words: Patriot


Liberals have allowed conservatives to steal the word “patriot”. In the Trump era, liberals are the ones standing up for the constitution, the rule of law, freedom, and protecting democracy from foreign tampering – while conservatives are cheering as core American institutions are attacked. It is time to revisit the idea of patriotism.

Historically, liberals are more willing to question and criticize their country then conservatives. We have allowed the questioning of our government – an act the founding fathers would have called patriotic – to be labeled as un-American, unpatriotic, and disloyal.

Worse, we stood quietly by while conservatives claim the mantra of patriotism, often based upon little more than flag waving.

Merriam Webster defines patriot as:

A person who loves and strongly supports or fights for his or her country

Wiktionary defines a patriot as:

A person who loves and zealously supports and defends their country.

OED defines patriot as:

A person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.

There are important subtle differences in the definitions. Does a patriot need to “zealously” support his or her country? Do patriots need to defend their country versus detractors, or just enemies? Unfortunately, the dictionary definitions leave a gray area not unlike the public arguments about patriotism, but at the core, the definitions are all about a love of country and a willingness to stand up for it.

That means defending freedom, opportunity, the Constitution, democracy, and supporting institutions, like education and a free press.

Conservatives are defining fighting against discrimination, paying for education, and protecting our environment as tyranny. In doing so, they have allowed a growing number of people to pretend that it is “patriotic” to do things that hurt our country and its future.

A rule of law that protects everyone’s rights and freedoms is not tyranny, but the foundation of a free society. Conservatives have spread the false concept that if they don’t get to do everything they want do, they are not free; but absolute freedom does not make a free society – at best it is anarchy, and at worst it is the private privilege of tyrants, oligarchs, and royalty in societies that are not free.

Conservatives are refusing to defend our country against Russian tampering while themselves attacking them: freedom of speech, the press, education, religious freedom/separation of church and state, the right to protest, courts/check and balances, and voter rights.

We need to stand up and say these things are not patriotic, and we need to say that by standing up for freedom, democracy, the constitution – the best ideals of our founding fathers – liberals are the patriots.