The controversy over currently-former-NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick has stimulated fresh ruminations on my part about the true nature of patriotism. In short, if your concept of “patriotism” is tied up in superficial symbols of your country, and not in the well-being of its people, then you’re doing patriotism wrong.

Genuine patriotism requires more of a person than simply getting an erection at the sight of the flag or on hearing the first bars of “The Star Spangled Banner.” It requires much more than blindly and unconditionally cheering for everything that the Chief Executive does with our military, more than hollow outrage when superficial national symbols are “disrespected.” Neither demands anything substantive on the part of the so-called “patriot,” only equally superficial gestures.

It is not unpatriotic to question the President’s decisions, especially not in the arena of foreign policy and the use of force, regardless of his or her party. Opposing the President is not the same as opposing your country, because the United States and its President are not synonymous with each other, because this is not a monarchy. When the President sends bombers, cruise missiles or troops over to some other country, our first instinct should not be to automatically wave the flag. Scrutiny must come before support.

The President of the United States is just a person with a job, a job that we hired him or her to do, and as the President’s employer, we reserve the right to tell them how badly they screwed up their job. If that screw-up involves sending our men and women in uniform into an unjust and unnecessary war, dissent is not just a right but a patriotic duty. To stand silently by while the government squanders blood and treasure in the name of aggression, that is the greater betrayal.

Patriotism, put simply, is love of country, and your country is its people, all of them, and not just those currently in power.

We’ve all seen the kind of parent who writes an angry letter to the school board because a teacher gave their child an “A minus,” for daring to suggest that their little angel was anything less than perfect.

If your love of country resembles the way this parent “loves” their child, then you probably watch Fox News.

Good parents push their children to try harder, and do better, to be better than the child thinks he or she can be. These parents also understand that sometimes the little brat just needs a time out.

If you love your country the way these parents love their children, then you, my friend, are a patriot.

Patriotism is not the blind, unquestioning belief that your country is the greatest in the world, full stop. Patriotism comes from the desire for your country to achieve some level of greatness, something that cannot happen without a full understanding of its, meaning our, past and present failures.

To love your country, its people, anyone really, is to want the best for them, and to put their needs on equal footing to your own.

If you want the people of that country to have access to guaranteed healthcare and never worry that a sudden illness may bankrupt them, then you love your country.

If you want everyone to have access to a college education without a crippling debt coming along for the ride, then you love your country.

If you think that people who work a full-time job should earn a living wage, and not have to work two more jobs to keep a roof over their head, then you love your country.

If you think people should be able to drive across a bridge without it falling into the river, then you love your country.

If you think the government should serve those who voted for them, rather than those who funded their campaigns, then you love your country.

If you’re appalled that the government has been secretly spying on, well, virtually everybody, and you give up your whole existence, including your country, to expose it, then you love that country more than those who would throw you in prison.

And if you sacrifice your career because you’re alarmed that too many young, unarmed black men are dying under the color of authority, then you love your country, and you love it more than someone who calls you a “son-of-a-bitch” because you knelt during the national anthem.

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