American flags waving everywhere. Patriotic music playing from the speakers of food trucks parked on the grass. People everywhere standing, sitting in lawn chairs, or lying down on blankets to watch the brightly colored fireworks competing with the almost-full moon to illuminate the night sky. On Tuesday evening, the group went to the Miami Biltmore Hotel to watch Coral Gables’ Fourth of July fireworks celebration. Hundreds upon hundreds of people—many more than I had anticipated—were spread out all over the expansive golf course outside of the luxurious, historic hotel. The crowded, bustling atmosphere reminded me in many ways of Fourth of July celebrations in Washington, DC (save for the Spanish that I heard all around me, of course).
Though this certainly wasn’t my first time watching Fourth of July fireworks, this year something felt different. As I saw people proudly waving American flags and heard songs like “Proud to Be an American” playing loudly, I started to wonder, What it does mean to be proud of your country? Can you still be a “faithful” or “loyal” citizen even if you don’t agree with everything your country does?
Since the most recent presidential election, this country has grown increasingly politically polarized, with intolerance building on both sides of the political aisle and acts of bigotry and xenophobia being committed more openly as people feel emboldened to do so by their leader’s divisive rhetoric. With so much disagreement and hostility, it seems as though people are just throwing around the words “un-American” and ‘unpatriotic” at anyone who doesn’t share the same political ideologies and beliefs. Just who, then, is a “true patriot”?
As I pondered this question, I came across an article that explores the different types of attachment to one’s country, specifically blind patriotism vs. constructive patriotism. It defines blind patriotism as “an attachment to country characterized by unquestioning positive evaluation, staunch allegiance, and intolerance of criticism,” while constructive patriotism entails “support for questioning and criticism of current group practices that are intended to result in positive change.”
Blind patriotism, though ever present to some extent, seems to have resurged with full force since the last presidential campaign. Blanket statements such as “America’s the greatest country in the world” are emblematic of this issue. Sure, the United States is great in many respects: we have the largest economy in the world, we are a melting pot of countless religious and ethnic identities, we have the right to voice dissent without fear of imprisonment, etc. But America is by no means perfect. It is no longer the global leader in education, millions of Americans live in hunger and abject poverty, our immigration system is a mess. Let’s not even get started on healthcare.
The bottom line? Blind patriotism is dangerous. It leads to an untenable level of nationalism, which, as we’ve seen after two World Wars, isn’t such a great thing. By simply aggrandizing one’s nation while willfully ignoring its flaws, this misguided belief is only perpetuated. So what do we do to stop it? Well, for starters, we must face reality by being informed citizens, engaging in constructive dialogue, and taking the initiative to seek out the truth rather than simply accepting at face value what is presented to us. By taking the appropriate measures, we can effect the positive social, political, and economic change that will move us in the right direction.