by Connor Jordan
I want to start this off by informing you of the difference between patriotism and nationalism. According to Oxford Dictionary, patriotism is “the quality of being patriotic and the devotion to and vigorous support for one's country,” while nationalism is “identification with one's own nation and support for its interests, especially to the exclusion or detriment of the interests of other nations.”
I consider myself a patriot and not a nationalist, but we’ll get to that.
I love America. I love the people, the culture, and the untamed natural beauty to be found in places untouched by civilization like the mountains of the Appalachian Trail that I hiked as a kid or the beautiful Redwoods in Northern California. Likewise, I love the modern American sites like San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge and the Bank of America Plaza piercing through the Atlanta skyline. I love that people can come here from around the globe, and that for a long time, we welcomed them. I love that I can be in an American city and meet people from around the world. I love the opportunities that America can provide for a young man or woman growing up with a free public education. I love that I can find friends and family and love among people that are different from me, whether in their ideologies, political identities, ethnic backgrounds, or the colors of their skin. I love that I can browse the internet and see the true spirit of the American people doing good for their communities. I love the growing support for the LGBTQ+ community. I love the history of the United States. I love some of the leaders that have fundamentally changed American society, whether it be Abraham Lincoln, Harriett Tubman, Theodore Roosevelt, FDR, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Jane Fonda, or even Barack Obama, the first African-American President of the United States.
However, in no way, shape, or form is the United States perfect. As of 2018, 38 million Americans live in poverty (Income and Poverty in the United States: 2018).Taxes have been cut for the wealthiest people and companies in America, while military spending has increased, therefore increasing the deficit substantially and setting us on the right track for hitting $27 trillion in debt by 2021 (Live US Debt Clock). For a visual, that is $27,000,000,000,000. Between the academic years of 1989 and 2016, the cost of obtaining a four-year degree doubled (if adjusted for inflation). If the calculation does not adjust for inflation, that number is an increase from an average of $26,900 in 1989 to $104,000 in 2016. Meanwhile, the median real (where real indicates the adjustment for inflation) wages have only gone up from $54,000 (1989) to $59,000 (2016), meaning that the cost to attend a four-year university has increased about eight times faster than wages have (Price of College Increasing Almost 8 Times Faster Than Wages, 2018).
Since 2016, the polarization of ideas has created two separate nations in the United States that are always at each other’s throats. This also comes with increased violence and brutality (Report: rise in hate violence tied to 2016 presidential election). Children have been separated from their families at the border, and the camps where the children are being kept have been compared to war-time internment camps. There are people defending this even as others condemn it. In 2019, there were more than 365 mass shootings, where a mass shooting is defined by the National Gun Violence Archive as 4 or more shot or killed, not including the shooter (There were more mass shootings than days in 2019). Race relationships are at a breaking point due to a new wave of hate groups. Out of all the nations in North America, and all of Northern, Western, and Southern Europe, the United States is the only region where the death penalty is not abolished (International Death Penalty Information).
Likewise, we have handled the COVID-19 crisis and pandemic terribly and are among the worst in our response. As I write this (10/31/20), over 9 million cases of COVID-19 have been reported, including my father, and over 229,000 people have died. My dad has started recovering, with his fever breaking two days ago, but this is not the case for many others at higher risk. Furthermore, in August of 2020, there were more than 50,000 cases reported daily with more than 1,000 deaths (CDC COVID-19 Tracker). I’ve returned to campus, but I’d be lying if I said that I genuinely feel safe when I leave my room to do as much as go to the dining hall. There are millions of students that are returning to school, and many of them will become ill due to citizens being neglectful of their duties to prevent spreading the virus. I believe much of this stems from the politicization of the virus, with the President of the United States going so far as to claim that the virus is a hoax by the opposing party (Trump Calls Coronavirus Democratic Hoax).
That’s a lot of bleak statistics and statements. How can I love a country with so many terrible things happening? To me, over the past year, it has been a very important question as I begin my adulthood in this country and world. The answer, quite simply, is that I have hope. For all the terrible things, there are people standing up to them. There are people who want to make a difference and believe that the unfailing will of the American people can lead to meaningful change. I have seen people from different backgrounds come together and prove that healing is possible. Just over the summer of 2020, I have had multiple serious discussions with friends I disagreed with that allowed us to see each other’s perspectives. I have witnessed serious strides in government officials– and in civilians– in working towards a climate plan that can save the world, such as the Green New Deal proposed by Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Senator Edward Markey of Massachusetts (Green New Deal). I have heard discussions regarding increasing the minimum wage between presidential candidates, especially during the Democratic primaries. Additionally, the number of programs available for informing students about student loans and paying for college is promising. There is more diversity in this country’s legislature than ever before, including the largest number of women to be serving in Congress so far (A record number of women will be serving in the new Congress).
The United States of America is a country of more than 330 million people, from all walks of life. I love this country, but it wouldn’t be our home without its immigrants. We are the ultimate melting pot. I believe that this diversity is what allows for changes to be made because it inspires changes in perspectives. This can be seen by the changing views of many people, including my own family as I start my adulthood, and they begin to see the diversity that my experience brings into their lives. Seeing these different perspectives from different people is what defines me as a patriot and separates me from nationalists. I identify with America, but I have never thought to exclude other nations, which is an aforementioned characteristic of nationalism. I choose not to put America first, but to prioritize the world and humanity. To be a patriot is to love America not because of our freedom, money, or power, but because of our people. To be a patriot is to love America despite all our faults and to believe that changes can be made. To be a patriot is to advocate for this change and stand up to hypocrisy. To be told I am not a patriot because I don’t think everything about America is absolutely star-spangled awesome frustrates me. Ideally, there is nothing more American than seeing the issues and devising solutions to change them. Thank you, and God (or whatever you believe in) Bless America.