The Corner

Politics & Policy

What Is Patriotism?


It’s an ancient question — what is patriotism? Who’s a patriot? Who’s not?

These days, a lot of people are calling themselves “nationalists,” which I appreciate, in part because it takes some pressure off the word “patriot.”

But the concept of patriotism has been in the news lately. Many people consider the whistleblower a patriot. I’m talking about the man, or woman, who called attention to President Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. In the whistleblower’s eyes, Trump subordinated the national interest to his personal interests.

Of course, other people regard the whistleblower as very far from a patriot. Here’s Trump himself, speaking to staffers at the U.S. mission to the United Nations: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart with spies and treason, right? We used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

Trump and his movement portrayed themselves as true patriots when they made hay out of the NFL and “kneeling.” Vice President Pence traveled to a game in Indianapolis for one reason, apparently: to dramatically, indignantly walk out when some players kneeled during the national anthem. Trump later said, “I asked @VP Pence to leave stadium if any players kneeled, disrespecting our country.”

Earlier this year, Trump hugged the flag — literally hugged it — with odd fervor. This was at C-PAC. Someone remarked that it looked like he was “slow-dancing” with the flag.

Patriotism? Creepiness? What would we conservatives say if a Democratic president did that? (And much else?)

Last week, Trump tweeted, “Congratulations to President Xi and the Chinese people on the 70th Anniversary of the People’s Republic of China!” — exclamation point and all. Some of us thought that this tweet did not reflect American values, which include freedom, democracy, and human rights.

In March 2018, Trump’s staff felt it necessary to include in his briefing papers “DO NOT CONGRATULATE.” Trump was calling Vladimir Putin, who had just “won” another fraudulent election. The chief opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, had been murdered; the next one, Alexei Navalny, was barred from running. Trump congratulated Putin, of course.

He had congratulated Erdogan, too, in Turkey — after that dictator had rigged a referendum. He would later congratulate Sisi in Egypt — who had “won” a “presidential” election in which he, Sisi, had hand-picked his “opponent.” All the real opponents were in prison.

Shortly after Trump congratulated the Chinese Communist Party on its 70 years of dictatorship, he asked the Party to investigate his domestic political opponents.

A lot of us are currently knocking the NBA, hard, for its posture toward the PRC. The NBA is important. So is POTUS, maybe even more so.

Last May, Trump wrote, “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”

Personally, I have never thought much of Joe Biden. I have been against him since the middle 1980s, long before Trump stopped supporting the Democrats. But I will always side with a Joe Biden over a Communist dictator — in this case, the ruler of the most oppressed country on earth.

Think of it: Our president chortled with Kim Jong-un over the allegedly low IQ of a former U.S. vice president. Not my idea of patriotism. Yours?

One could go on, and will. Bill O’Reilly, then of Fox News, challenged Trump on Vladimir Putin. “Putin’s a killer,” said O’Reilly. The U.S. president answered, “There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, you think our country’s so innocent?”

I think back to Andrew Young, our ambassador to the U.N. in the first half of the Carter presidency. At the time, the Soviet Union was putting dissidents through show trials. Young, giving an interview to a French newspaper, said, “In our prisons, too, there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people whom I would describe as political prisoners.”

Conservatives went ballistic — rightly so. President Carter, in a press conference, said, “I know that Andy regrets having made that statement, which was embarrassing to me.”

During the 2016 campaign, a reporter for the New York Times, David Sanger, asked Candidate Trump about Turkey. If he became president, would he press Erdogan on civil liberties?

Trump answered, “I think right now, when it comes to civil liberties, our country has a lot of problems, and I think it’s very hard for us to get involved in other countries when we don’t know what we are doing and we can’t see straight in our own country. . . . When the world looks at how bad the United States is, and then we go and talk about civil liberties, I don’t think we’re a very good messenger.”

Uh-huh. I have a different idea of patriotism. So do many other conservatives, who may be a little quiet these days, but who speak in whispers, and who may regain their voices in coming months and years. Patriotism is a lot more than hugging the flag and deploring Colin Kaepernick.


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