By Opinion Editor Aria Lakhmani
“Because being American is more than a pride we inherit / it’s the past we step into and how we repair it.” Listening to Youth Poet Laureate Amanda Gorman’s inauguration poem redefined my understanding of what patriotism really means.
In the past couple of years, the word ‘patriotism’ has taken on somewhat of a negative connotation, especially with its newfound association with the slogan “Make America Great Again.” Former President Trump invoked the word himself when describing changes he wanted to implement in American history curriculum to promote “patriotic education” in schools. This “patriotic education,” Trump explained, would avoid the 1619 Project, which he called “toxic propaganda, ideological poison that, if not removed, will dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together … will destroy our country.” For context, the 1619 Project, spearheaded by the New York Times, focused on the extensive history of slavery in America. Instead of showcasing this important part of our country’s history, Trump pushed towards placing emphasis on the more glorious parts of American history, like the Declaration of Independence. The practice of patriotism being associated with ignoring shortcomings of our country is also prevalent outside of the White House: when athletes such as Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem to protest racial inequality, they were called “traitors.” Patriotism seems to be becoming misconstrued as unconditional and unwavering support for our country, regardless of the situation. Therefore, it’s easy to see why many picture angry, bigoted white men when the word “patriot” comes up, and it’s understandable that many don’t want to refer to themselves as patriots.
In her poem, “The Hill We Climb,” Gorman describes patriotism as less of a trait and more of a responsibility. How can we “repair” the past without acknowledging it in the first place? In order to truly “step into” it as she advocates for, we have to be willing to notice not just the good but also the bad in our country’s practices, policies, and discourse and also be willing to step up to make changes. Being able to recognize flaws in our country won’t “dissolve the civic bonds that tie us together” as Trump suggested; in fact, it’ll enable us to create a country founded on equality. This is the true meaning of patriotism — not a steadfast commitment to the image of what our country is but a steadfast commitment to always better our country.
By shifting our definition of what it means to be patriotic to embracing the fact that we are not a perfect country and working towards change, we can be more united in striving towards a better America.
Cover image by Opinion Editor Aria Lakhmani