Modern Patriotism

America…it’s getting weird. I love you and all, but I’m feeling dismay, frustration, and a smidge anxious at our state of affairs. And before you go saying, “You lost, you loser. Shut up and deal with it.” This is, for me, not a new sensation isolated to this election. Rather, I see it as an escalation of what I’ve feared would overcome us. Our commitment to being right usurping our shared American ethos. 

I gotta say, I think, in this last election, we all lost.

Civil discourse, proactive cooperation, and our steadfast American optimism, these are the bedrock of our functioning. And once eroded are hard to get back. 

And we can blame social media. 

Or the job market. 

Or the divide between rural and urban America. 

But ultimately, there must be a reckoning. 

An inventory of how we, as each individual, choose to participate in our community. 

How we act in our local communities. How we act in our online communities. And the language we use to describe our national and global communities. 

It seems to me that how so many of us treat our friends, families, or even strangers in the grocery store is not translating to how we speak in our online community about our national and global community. 

In the space between where we live and what we don’t understand, we’ve sacrificed our capacity for compassion and cooperation to pretend we stand on the imaginary moral high ground.

That’s not greatness.

America can be great. But our aptitude for greatness has very little to do with the size of our military or our economy. America can be great because we hold these truths to be self evident that all people are created equal. Endowed by their creator, not my creator, to live a life of prosperity and peace. 

The founding fathers were flawed men, some owned slaves, many mistreated women, but ultimately they worked together to create a living breathing love letter to liberty and justice. The Constitution is a purposefully vague document left open to interpretation meant to grow and evolve with society. It’s more than just law, our founding documents are a promise. A promise we must be exceptional to realize. 

Patriotism is defined simply as “love for or devotion to one’s country.” I love this country not for what we are, but what we can be. When push comes to shove, I really believe that we show up for each other. In times of tragedy and triumph, we recognize that we’re all in this thing together. Disagreement on how to manage government is a fundamental part of our patriotism, but I’d argue that how we choose to shape that conversation defines us. 

In college I met great historian, Howard Zinn. He defines patriotism as participation. Patriotism is not blind obedience, or even saluting a flag, it’s how you show up. 

Participation is not limited to four year election cycles. 

Patriotism is not limited to parades or the National Anthem.

Patriotism requires us to embrace a fundamental truth of our democracy. 

Democracy doesn’t work unless we do.

How you treat people online and at home can be patriotic. 

Patriotism is knowing the names and phone numbers of your local representatives.

Civil disobedience is one of the most powerful forms of patriotism. 

As society evolves, it’s even more important to reevaluate what it means to be an American. 

We are required to take an inventory of how we show up and even modernize our understanding of what it is to be a patriot. 

If we love our country, what does that mean for how we choose to live in it?

Here’s a few ideas I’ve come up with. I’d happily add to this list should you wish to share your ideas or simply add them by commenting below.


1. Resist the temptation to believe everything you think.

 There’s a sort of funny phenomenon amongst progressives. This illusion that they’re, we’re so “open minded” and conservative people are not. Yet if open minded-ness is defined as being receptive to new ideas, I’d say liberal people are just as stubborn as conservatives. If you really want to be radical, create a space in your brain that allows you to be wrong and is receptive to different points of view. 

2. Resist the temptation to believe everything you read.

 Be discerning about how you gather information. As media sources have exploded in the last few years, so too has our penchant for echo chambers, conspiracy theories and the increasing phenomenon of “fake news.” When you read or hear a story that incites anger, fear, or distrust, check out another news source to see the language they use to report the same story. 

3. Support Boring News.

The news is supposed to be a little bit boring. I think one big reason that media sucks so hard is that we’ve basically come to believe that it’s free. And well, we get what we don’t pay for. The Washington Post or the Houston Chronicle should not have to spend so much time trying to lure you away from Twitter. 140 characters is not news…and reading sensational tweets does not make you informed.

Similarly, The Huffington Post, the Conservative Tribune, or a meme that your drunk uncle posted on Facebook at 2 AM does not count as news. And if a story has a picture of your political opponent with devil horns or a Hitler mustache painted on them, don’t read it, don’t share it, it’s garbage and should be treated as such.

Support authenticated, fact based reporting. Investigative reporting takes time and money.  Re-new your subscription to your local paper or public radio affiliate. 

4. Step away from Social Media.

Facebook is great for some things. Sharing baby pictures, organizing an event, promoting your yoga classes…it’s not the best forum for political discourse. It’s not media; it’s group think. Scroll your feed. If 99% of posts reinforce your world view, your portrait is very likely distorted. Misinformation and demonization swirl unchecked. Individuals can be reasonable, but an angry mob? Not so much.

5. Practice listening. 

Listening is not a space for you to think of the next thing you’re going to say. Pause. Breath. Listen. Ask questions. With grace and kindness, disagree where necessary. Don’t call someone stupid, brainwashed, elitist, or Satan’s stepchild. Don’t interrupt. Don’t explode.

Be Barack Obama, stay cool even when an angry mob is demanding to see your birth certificate. 

6. Speak up.

Public officials you vote for require your input. Officials you didn’t vote for require your input. Lobbyists have undue influence not just because of the inordinate amount of money they spend in Washington, but also because they’re there. Knocking on doors, cold calling offices, etc. Powerful interests have hired people to be loud in Washington. The only way to compete with that, is to do the same. Use your voice. Write letters, call offices, sit in. Donate money to organizations that support your values. Do what you gotta do to make your voice heard. 

7. Stand up.

Be a protector of all humanity. If you hear something, say something. If you see something, do something. The pandora’s box of racism has been opened, and it’s really hard to put a bear back in a box. Our minority communities are rightfully worried at what the future holds for them. Commit to having their back, standing up and saying NO. We need to rip out hate speech from the root. Don’t be sheepish when you hear someone brazenly using hateful language. Just say NO.

8. Own your racism.

The election of Trump, amongst many other things, was a rejection of “PC culture.” Many people are heart broken that the language used by Trump in this election was not a deal breaker for people but for some that same language was attractive.

“Telling it like it is” won.

And yet, after the election when many were concerned that the election was a victory for racism, Trump voters were saying, “Oh no, don’t call me a racist. That hurts my feelings.” Oh does it? Does it hurt your feelings? Well, you might be racist if, you reject politically correct language but can’t handle being called a racist! If you have to spend time denying you’re a racist, you’re probably at least a little bit racist. Let me set an example, I’m white and live in progressive Northern California and I’ll say, you know what, I’m a little bit racist.

We have got to stop throwing up our hands and saying, “What? Me? I’m definitely not racist.” Just own it. And commit to not just treating all beings as equal but rewiring your brain to see and think of all beings as equal. Stop trying to deny it and just do your best.

9. Travel.

Visit another state. Heck, visit another country. Expand your horizons. Meeting people face to face changes your internal narrative about the people that live in that space. Great example, my family is from Texas. When I mention that fact to people here in California their expression changes…surprise, shock, that “Oh…Texas…” face.  Similarly when traveling in Texas and I say, “I’m from California.” Surprise…why the hell would you want to live there? Oh, I don’t know…because we have the 8th largest economy in the world and the most national parks. Not to mention the best produce, dairy, and wine…so yeah…The truth is people in Texas are awesome. People in California are awesome. People in China are awesome. And you’ll likely continue believing the stereotype of a place unless you actually get there. 

10. Turn off your phone.

Go for a walk or have lunch with a friend without any technology. Sit and stare out into space. Give some space for perspective in your life. Our hyper emotional state is intimately linked with our desperate need to always be engaged. Silence is the language of God. Breath in silence. And listen. You may find a deeper wisdom in the simplicity.