What Is Patriotism?

On this Independence Day weekend, movoto.com published a map showing the most and the least patriotic states in America. I might not have paid it any heed except for the fact that it ranked my former state of Minnesota at #49. The criteria used included the number of National Historic Landmarks per capita (WTF?), the number of veterans per capita, money spent to fund veterans, percentage of residents who voted in the last presidential election, people who use Google to buy American flags (double WTF?) and people who list America as an interest on Facebook (triple WTF?).

Obviously, the realtors who constructed the map have no clue of the true meaning of patriotism.

My ancestors fought in all of America’s wars going back to the Revolution. Many could be considered war heroes. Yet there were no showy displays of flags. They paid tribute to other veterans and to the nation, but to my knowledge, they never received nor expected special treatment for their own courage. Most were also religious, but they never made a show of their faith nor tried to force their beliefs onto others.

In short, they were true patriots.

All of this reminds me of an essay contest I was asked to judge a few years ago. It consisted of judging essays on patriotism written by a middle school class. Despite the many grammatical errors and spelling errors, the worst aspect of the competition was the fact that the children seemed to equate patriotism with flag-waving and our military might. The essays focused on war…on defending our freedom from outside interests. But there was no mention of defending our freedom from those inside our nation who would try to take away our rights. There was no mention of devotion to our nation, its principles and its Constitution. There was no mention of our responsibility to vote; to pay our fair share of taxes; to conserve our nation’s beauty; to conserve our environment. No mention of ensuring equal rights for all of our citizens.

Knowing then what I know now, I shouldn’t have been surprised. On movoto.com’s list, Arizona ranked #10 for patriotism. But, in my view, what passes for patriotism in Arizona today is far too much about show…displaying flags and military toys…than substance. By itself, a flag is just a few scraps of colored cloth. It’s what the flag stands for that is really important. Unfortunately, that fact is lost on far too many people. Some of the people who wave the flag the most and shout USA the loudest disavow our federal government. Some would deny others the right to vote, the right to control their own body and the right to marry whom they love. Some destroy signs of their political opponents. Some vandalize property of those who display election materials for the “wrong” candidates. Some shout angry epithets at members of other political parties. Some threaten and bully those who display political stickers with which they disagree. Some carry the Gadsen flag and openly carry guns in order to intimidate their fellow citizens. Some fly the battle flag of the Confederacy and make racist threats. Some cheat or refuse to pay taxes in order to deny funding for the government. All the while, like most of the South, the State of Arizona receives far more in federal funds than it pays in taxes.

Minnesota, on the other hand…the state that ranked #49 in patriotism on movoto.com’s list…leads the nation in voting. It pays a far larger share of income taxes than it receives in federal funding. Indeed, Minnesotans create a disproportionate number of jobs nationally and pay a disproportionate amount in taxes. Minnesotans played a key role for the North in the Civil War. On the other hand, the state that was ranked most patriotic by movoto.com is South Carolona…the first state to secede from the Union and to declare war on the United States.

Now tell me, which state is really more patriotic?