Patriotism in Adulthood: Should We All Be Waving The Flag?

american flag in fieldI’ve never been all that patriotic.

Part of it is that I’ve lived abroad for many periods in my life which (I think) tends to dilute one’s patriotic feelings.

Part of it is that – at least until President Obama came along – I never felt particularly inspired by my country’s public servants. So sure, I voted. But I never felt like they were offering a vision of the country that I could really buy into or that moved me to consider public service myself.

And I’m sure that a large part of it is that in America, at least, patriotism often goes along with a sort of xenophobic, jingoistic, with-us-or-against-us mentality. And that has never appealed.

Of course, it doesn’t have to be this way. My colleague Jill Lawrence at Politics Daily wrote this weekend about how – post 9/11 – she discovered her inner patriot. Whereas before 9/11 she cringed slightly at overt signs of patriotism – like hanging a flag – once she saw her country in a more vulnerable light, it moved her to feel “a visceral love for its ideals and possibilities, and a strong protective urge.” Since then, she proudly hangs a flag on her door, and wishes that more “progressive” types would do the same.

My colleague James Grady was singing a similar tune on Politics Daily over the weekend. He exhorted us all to go out and join enthusiastically in the Fourth of July parades that blanket American towns and cities every Independence Day. For Jim, the Fourth is not just a celebration of the freedom we all enjoy but an acknowledgment that it hinges crucially on mutual respect of each other’s freedoms. And *that’s* the patriotic spirit that we need to keep alive.

I was moved by my colleagues’ arguments. Which doesn’t mean that I’m any likelier to purchase – much less wave – an American flag than I was yesterday. Nor am I likely to jump on a parade float anytime soon.

But I can rally behind the idea that all have reasons to love our country which transcend our foreign policy and our showmanship and the often misguided appropriation of our national myths in the service of causes that undermine it. That at the end of the day, what has always bound our country together was a set of ideas, not a set of laws or – God Forbid – a crown. As Jill writes: “It’s sometimes hard to love this country as it is…it’s easy to love it for what it aims to be.”

Which is perhaps why – when this little gem landed in my inbox this morning  – I paused for a moment and did feel a dash of patriotism. It’s another Politics Daily colleague – Robert Trussell – singing Woody Guthrie’s This Land is Your Land – on his front porch. Have a listen.

I don’t think I’d ever paused before to listen to all the lyrics of this song but here’s the final verse:

As I was walkin'  -  I saw a sign there
And that sign said - no tress passin'
But on the other side  .... it didn't say nothin!
Now that side was made for you and me!

Amen. And happy trails.


For those who are interested, I’m over on today talking about the latest thinking in development assistance: giving poor people cash as a means of eradicating poverty.

Image: Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

  • Reply Lisa

    July 5, 2010, 4:11 pm

    Delia, I completely agree. I posted about this, last 4th of July I believe. Maybe Memorial Day? In any case, having felt all my life that flags were for Republicans. After 911, I planted a red, white, and blue garden. This year it’s just a flower pot. But I say, reclaim the flag. Patriotism can mean love as much as it means aggression.

  • Reply Daryl Boylan

    July 5, 2010, 8:40 pm

    Amen to you & Lisa. But what really grabbed me was your PD piece on cash (accountable) to the very poor on an individual & local basis — yes yes yes! I think we’ve all heard enough of the incredible waste and/or larceny of giving it to governments. Write on!

  • Reply Rebecca K

    July 11, 2010, 7:17 pm

    I definitely feel the same way as you. I discuss this with my husband a lot (he agrees). Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to embrace America – like your coworkers’ suggestions – since I do live here! And I have children, so I want to have a nice balance of celebration without implying we are better humans.

  • Reply delialloyd

    July 11, 2010, 7:35 pm

    @lisa-love the garden idea-what a small but significant way to wave the flag. @rebecca – yes I’m working on it too. my kids are actually more knee-jerk patriotic than I am and I try to reign them in…hard to find the right balance!

  • Reply Cecilia

    July 12, 2010, 6:39 pm

    I can so relate to this, Delia. I feel exactly the same way. While I will probably never hang a flag outside my house, I think that my conscious decision to move back to the US and to raise my son here is a reflection of my patriotism, as well as my faith in my country to give us a better life than what we would have if we had stayed overseas.

Write a comment