From Benjamin Franklin’s quest for moral perfection to Martin Luther King Jr. sharing his dream for a more inclusive future, America has been defined by constant improvement. On a societal level, Independence Day reminds us that America was built by constructive critics who believed that freedom of thought was essential to a functioning democracy.
This Fourth of July, let’s affirm that our republic’s national conversation values constructive criticism of American institutions and practices. Some people may think that critiquing the U.S. is unpatriotic, but I argue for a different framework to evaluate one’s homeland that can make us feel proud to be Americans: constructive patriotism.
Constructive patriotism is loving one’s country enough to question and criticize its current policies and practices in order to create positive change. Studies associate this productive kind of patriotism with increased political involvement and civic participation.
On the other hand, individuals can be blind patriots, giving unwavering support for their country and not tolerating criticism of their homeland. Blind patriotism has been positively correlated with political disengagement, nationalism, selective exposure to pro-U.S. information, and lower civic participation. However, civic participation may lower feelings of blind patriotism. While constructive patriots ask the difficult questions that help build our society, blind patriots prefer not to ask questions and support the status quo.
Dissent in promotion of reform is one of America’s signature ideals, which is why we remember changemakers in our history books. The Founding Fathers set the tone for constructive patriotism when they approved the Declaration of Independence 245 years ago, ending their subservient colonial relationship with Great Britain. In 1787, American delegates were constructive critics when they replaced the failing Articles of Confederation with the U.S. Constitution (which generations have critiqued and improved ever since).
Outside the walls of Independence Hall, constructive patriotic energy has fueled many political movements — from 19th century Abolitionism to the protests for racial justice last summer. These patriots, regardless of time period or cause, advocated for the U.S. to continue its long journey toward ideals of liberty, justice, and equality for all.
Yet, someone may see societal change as a threat to American values. For example, many parents are worried about critical race theory being taught in their kids’ schools. A constructive patriot would encourage parents to question how we currently teach American history and ask if critical race theory is a part of the solution or not. However, a blind patriot would likely advise parents to be militantly opposed to critical race theory since it challenges the dominant narrative of American history.
Constructive patriotism transcends the U.S. and applies to other countries as well. In a 2014 Italian study, constructive patriotism was positively correlated with universalism (respecting all people’s rights and welfare regardless of background) and negatively correlated with tradition, while blind patriots were positively linked to tradition and negatively linked to universalism.
These studies and examples reinforce why I am proud to be an American: constructive patriotism. I am privileged to live in a culturally diverse country where I can share my opinions on the government without fear of censorship, harassment or imprisonment.
Constructive patriotism can be found in the classroom. In fact, I am grateful to have learned from political science and history professors who have encouraged me to scrutinize America’s past policies and culture to learn how we can improve in the future. There is a lot to gain by simply asking how and why our governments — and our societies at-large — behave in the ways they do.
Although I do not have the answers to solve today’s issues, I know I can continue to learn by reading and listening to others on what America was, what it is, and what it should become. I am a constructive American patriot, and I invite you to join me in declaring our independence from blind patriotism. Let’s learn how to have conversations about current issues without fear of social blowback.
We can love this country and critique it at the same time.
JADEN CLOOBECK is a rising College senior from Laguna Beach, Calif. studying psychology. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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