Real patriots agree to disagree

Opinion: Ken Trainor

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By Ken Trainor

Staff writer

July 4th is a grand day to celebrate patriotism, however you define it. Here's how I define it.

A patriot is not:

  • A missile of mass destruction.
  • A piece of legislation (the Patriot Act) that violates our civil rights.
  • A scoundrel hiding behind the flag (a high percentage of politicians).
  • A politician spouting platitudes about "freedom" while stuffing his pockets with corporate campaign contributions.
  • A spectator who routinely sings the National Anthem before a sporting event without giving a moment's thought to the words.

A patriot is:

  • Someone like Martin Luther King Jr. who challenged his country to "rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed."
  • Someone who cares enough to get upset when this country falls so embarrassingly short of its democratic ideals — as we did in the 2000 presidential election.
  • Someone who won't say we're "number 1" until we're number 1 in quality-of-life categories (education, access to health care), not just military muscle.
  • Someone who is increasingly concerned as the gulf in this country widens between rich and poor.
  • Someone who loves the flag less than he or she loves what it symbolizes. And who hates it when phony patriots worship the stars and stripes then violate what they stand for.
  • Someone like Thomas Paine described: "When it shall be said in any country in the world, 'My poor are happy; neither ignorance nor distress is to be found among them; my jails are empty of prisoners, my streets of beggars; the aged are not in want.' ... When these things can be said, then may that country boast its constitution and its government."
  • Someone who realizes that the National Anthem ends in a question, and who thinks about that question every time he or she sings it. Someone who knows that the song's composer wasn't asking if the star-spangled banner yet waves. He was asking if in 2011 (and every other year), it still waves over the land of the free and the home of the brave.

If the answer is "no," a patriot is free and brave enough to say so.

When I go to a ballgame, as I did on Sunday, I resent being told to stand, take off my cap and sing, especially when I'm surrounded by people who seem to be there mostly to guzzle beer. I do not mind being invited to sing. I do mind being ordered to.

I define patriotism as respecting those who choose, for whatever reason, not to sing the National Anthem at a baseball game.

But singing the anthem, I'm told, is a rare opportunity to demonstrate our national unity and feel a shared sense of national pride with our fellow countrymen.

I understand the attraction of that dream of unity, but to me it feels hollow. It papers over our divisions and pretends we are unified, when we are actually deeply divided on what it means to be an American and how we believe we should be governed.

We will never be one country in agreement, and we need to forsake that false dream. We can only be one country in disagreement, in diversity of opinion. And that applies to choosing whether to sing the National Anthem as much as it applies to our rancorous elections.

Here's what Mark Twain, one of our most patriotic authors, had to say on the subject:

What the general body of Americans regarded as the patriotic course was not in accordance with my views; that if there was any valuable difference between being an American and a monarchist, it lay in the theory that the American could decide for himself what is patriotic and what isn't; whereas the king could dictate the monarchist's patriotism for him — a decision which was final and must be accepted by the victim; that in my belief, I was the only person who was privileged to construct my patriotism for me.

Americans will always disagree. That's the nature of democracy. We can only be "united" in our respect for other Americans' divergent points of view, recognizing that we all share, down deep, a mutual concern for this country's best interests.

Currently, to say the least, we do not respect one another. We do not dialogue.

Dialogue is a patriotic act.


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Ray Simpson from Oak Park  

Posted: July 1st, 2011 9:54 PM

"A patriot is not" someone who snipes about the election of 2000 yet remains silent about the results of the 2008 election. Your guy may be smart (Your opinion - not mine) but has proven time and again he is totally devoid of any wisdom. Can you honestly claim that our nation is in more competent hands than under previous administrations? Even Jimmy Carter had a better grasp of leadership.

Oblivious. from Oak Park  

Posted: July 1st, 2011 6:14 AM

It's interesting that you, Mr. Trainor, who pushes your thoughts and agenda down the throat of Oak Parkers through your publication says we should "agree to disagree." Open dialogue on ideas that contradict your own is seldom allowed in the pages of the WJ. You can't control your contempt for people who drink beer at ballgames? Wow. Perhaps you are the one who is "disagreeable" as you seem to expect the world to conform to your very very liberal ideals.

John Murtagh from oak park  

Posted: June 30th, 2011 10:41 PM

As a boy, I loved waving the flag. As a teenager, I served in the army. As a young adult I marched against the Vietnam War as the American patriots threw rocks. MY FAVORITE PATRIOTISM QUOTE came from Pablo Casals lips "The love of one's country is a splendid thing. But why should love stop at the border?" I drew my last patriotic breath in the 1960's, but I still love my country. Have a happy, safe, and respectful Independence Day.

Facebook Verified  

Posted: June 30th, 2011 10:14 PM

Pin head or Patriot?


Posted: June 30th, 2011 4:21 PM

1 percent of our population is having a hard time understanding your aversion to being told to stand during the national anthem. They are having a harder time understanding why people have to be told in the first place. That 1 percent is the total population who are currently serving in the US military, including myself. I, and my fellow brothers and sisters, will continue to stand on guard for you regardless of what choices you make, what a great country!

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