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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    The two types of patriots

    Justyn DillinghamEditor-in-Chief
    Justyn Dillingham

    Some time ago, I was chatting with some friends when the subject of patriotism came up. Everyone agreed that no sensible American could feel proud of this country. Everyone, that is, except me.

    “”You’re patriotic?”” one of my friends asked, looking incredulous.

    My first reaction was to look incredulous myself. I don’t think I know anyone more enthusiastic about America than I am. Then I snapped to the fact that I had already been classified as a “”liberal,”” and patriotism doesn’t fit into the “”liberal”” category.

    Even liberals seem to tacitly acknowledge this strange notion: If you’re conservative, you love America; if you’re liberal, you attack it.

    Of course, liberals dislike certain things about the country, just as conservatives dislike certain things, but this hardly has anything to do with patriotism.

    Patriotism has nothing to do with being “”liberal”” or “”conservative””; those terms long ago ceased to mean much. Nor do they have anything to do with belonging to either of our two parties, both of which have sided sometimes for and sometimes against democracy.

    The Democrats, once the pro-slavery party that urged peace with the vile Confederacy, evolved into the party that ended the Depression and helped save the world from Hitler. The Republicans, once the noble party of Lincoln, became the degraded party of Nixon. Yet at all times they appealed to patriotism. What was going on?

    The truth is, there are not one, but two, ways to be patriotic in America. And if you’re one, you can’t be the other.

    The first way is to be a “”republican patriot.”” This means treating the promise of the Declaration of Independence – that is, that “”all men are created equal”” – as if it were more than just a promise.

    For state patriots, a government under siege by prickly, independent citizens is something to be avoided at all costs. Democracy interferes with state business.

    The second way is to support the president, the military and the law – under any circumstances. At one time or another in our history, Americans have been told that this is what patriotism means. For lack of a better term, I will call this “”state patriotism.””

    The odd thing about this way is that supporting any one of these things doesn’t exactly suggest you should support the other. If the president breaks the law, which authority should we uphold? If the military criticizes the CIA, which side should we be on?

    Was Martin Luther King Jr. a patriot? King not only believed that “”all men are created equal,”” he also tried to make it a reality. He may be the one American that nearly everyone can agree to admire.

    On the other hand, King was a harsh critic of his country. He pushed Presidents Kennedy and Johnson to pass civil rights legislation. He suggested that many of the laws of the land were fundamentally wrong. He criticized the Vietnam War. Not only that, but he urged his countrymen to do the same.

    To call King a patriot makes sense only if we regard him as a republican patriot, and to regard him as a hero makes sense only if we regard republican patriotism as noble. By the standards of the state patriot, he was a pest at best and a traitor at worst.

    Contrariwise, if King was a patriot, those who railed against him and tried to destroy him, like J. Edgar Hoover, were traitors. They wrapped themselves in the flag, but they might as well have been spitting on it.

    For republican patriots, criticizing your country isn’t wrong any more than a candidate is wrong to criticize his opponent; all of us have the right to an equal voice in our government. A government “”of the people, by the people, for the people”” is more than a catchphrase.

    For state patriots, a government under siege by prickly, independent citizens is something to be avoided at all costs. Democracy interferes with state business.

    Every time you hear someone complain that we lost in Vietnam because ordinary Americans wouldn’t mind their own damned business, you’re hearing the ominous mutter of the state patriot.

    As Jefferson said: “”Everyone takes his side in favor of the many, or of the few.”” Which side are you on?

    Justyn Dillingham is the copy chief for the Arizona Daily Wildcat and is a junior majoring in political science and history. He can be reached at

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