America: Love It but Don't Leave It

Patriotism is love of country. But love comes in many forms: deep, permanent and unconditional, as well as superficial, fleeting and with strings attached. Too often in America, expressions of patriotism seem to flow from our perceived status as "#1” -- in terms of military might, wealth, freedom, and democracy.

Our leaders remind us in nearly every speech they make that we live in the "greatest, freest, most just nation on Earth." They remind us so often, that one can't help but wonder if they really do believe it. That is a patriotism borne of fear, confusion and insecurity.

What if America wasn't -- or isn't -- number one? Would we still love our country then? Suggest American fallibility, and you may find yourself labeled a traitor. But how, then, are we to find our way to a better America, if this superficial, insecure patriotism prevents us from naming problems that need fixing and traits that need changing?

The solution is to reject false, jingoistic patriotism, and to embrace a patriotism based on the unconditional love of one's country. Note: that's unconditional love, not unconditional approval. Like a parent loves a child, or a child a parent, we love our country because it is our country. Period.

Beware: This type of patriotism brings with it much more responsibility than the kind based on superficial, conditional love. Once you accept responsibility for your country in the way that a parent does for a child -- or a child for a parent -- then you're really committed. When your country misbehaves, you can't just roll your eyes as if you had nothing to do with it.

Too many on the left have tried to absolve themselves of responsibility for their country by saying "that's my government, not me." Too many on the right have tried to erase the responsibility governments have to represent all the people by saying, "Love it or leave it!"

Perhaps as old political categories such as left and right lose their relevance, we can aim for a new political unity based on a new kind of patriotism. Let's leave behind the hollow patriotism which is based on disdain for and fear of others. Instead, let's define a new patriotism -- one that expresses our unconditional love for America and lives up to our responsibility to our fellow Americans.

This article orginally appeared as part of the MoveOn Bulletin. Zack Exley is organizing director of


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