What makes a patriot? Flag-waving? Chanting? How about doing your homework? Every real patriot has homework to do in the next 100 days. Here’s why.
Self-care means taking care of our moral compass. As the elections in the United States start heating up the airwaves and polarizing the population, maybe it’s time to remagnetize our moral compass. When we align ourselves with Jesus, we find it easier to wade through the rhetoric and continue moving in the right direction.
Soldiers on the Train
“Come!” The armed guard, dressed in full military uniform, nodded to me and my two companions.
I looked at my friends, fear slithering up my spine. We grabbed our backpacks while a second guard used his rifle to poke around the luggage in the overhead rack. He glared at the other passengers, who stared stoically straight ahead.
We followed the guards out of the crowded train compartment into the even more crowded passageway. It looked like the entire Yugoslavian army had gotten on at the last train stop. The stop where the conductor had taken our passports.
“No one told us we couldn’t travel through Yugoslavia,” I whispered to Lisa.
“I wonder what they’ll do to us?” she whispered back.
I shrugged and followed the guards down the metal steps and into the inky night. I could see our breath in the dim light spilling out of the train windows. No train station or platform lent its comfort to the surreal scene.
Our shoes crunched across the gravel as we walked towards the front of the train, which curved out of sight into the darkness. I shivered, but not from the cold. Nina, a foreign exchange student living with my parents back in Washington State, had said traveling to visit her parents in Sarajevo would be no problem.
She hadn’t mentioned the possibility of someone confiscating our passports. Or that armed guards would make us get off the train at a lonely outpost. Up ahead, I could see the outline of a small building. The door opened and the guards stepped aside.
Ronald Reagan Paves the Way
“Come! Come!” an officer bellowed as he beckoned us forward. “You Americans?” he asked with a jovial laugh.
“Yes.” I drew the word out, unsure of what would happen next. We entered the cheery room with a barrel stove and table. Other soldiers turned to look at us.
“Ronald Reagan?” the officer said. “Hollywood movie star?” He held out a package of cigarettes, “You wanna smoke?”
“No, thank you,” Lisa said with a shake of her head. “We don’t smoke.”
“I think all American smoke!” the officer said in disbelief and then turned to his companions and said something in his language.
From their shocked expressions, I figured he must have told them we didn’t smoke. The soldiers handed our passports around the table, examining our visa stamps and identification photos and comparing what they saw on paper to our faces.
“You live New York City?” the officer asked.
“No, the other side of the country, in the state of Washington.”
More murmuring from the men seated at the table. The passports made it back to the officer, and he looked at us with a big grin.
“U. S. A!” he exclaimed. He shook our hands and motioned to the guards.
“Come!” the guard said, and led us out of the building and back towards the train. Without our passports.
What Foreign Travel Taught Me About Being a Patriot
Thirty-six years have passed since that night, and I never did fully understand why they took our passports, nor why an officer wanted to talk to us in the middle of nowhere. Although a communist country at the time, Yugoslavia did not belong to the Soviet Union.
The juxtaposition of the cloak and dagger departure from the train and the delighted greeting of the soldiers still puzzles me. Traveling around Europe and attending a year of college in Spain did reveal one thing. Many fellow Americans I met on my travels gave our country a bad name.
They complained loudly when things ‘weren’t like they are back in America.’ Some fellow tourists disregarded signs inside cathedrals that asked visitors to refrain from flash photography. They gave a running commentary on how the country they visited could never match up to the United States—not realizing that most Europeans speak English as well as several other languages.
I remember a brash tourist confronting me as he and his companions waved small American flags on July 4th on a train platform in Italy. “Why ain’t you celebratin’ like the rest of us?” he asked. “Ain’t you a patriot?” They chanted “U. S. A! U. S. A!” over the din of the locals demonstrating in support of a train workers’ strike.
“Happy Fourth of July,” I said with a smile. Inside, I wanted to shout, “I can love and support my country without alienating the locals!”
My year in Europe taught me a lot about patriotism for my own country. It taught me about the ugly, insensitive side of patriotism that throws a warm, fuzzy blanket over all the wrongs in a country, plugs its ears, and refuses to see anything but the picture of what American could be.
Get to Know Your Country
My journey to other countries sparked a journey of discovery about my own country. I couldn’t criticize other countries for their communism, lack of freedom, or inequalities without first making sure my own country had freedom and equality for everyone.
I can love my country and support it best by working to make sure that everyone has what the ideals of our country stand for: Freedom, liberty, and justice for all.
Ensuring freedom, liberty, and justice for all doesn’t happen when I wave a flag and chant ‘U.S.A!’ Saying my country has freedom, liberty, and justice for all doesn’t make it true.Ensuring freedom, liberty, and justice for all doesn't happen when I wave a flag and chant USA! I need to do more. #patriot #justice Click To Tweet
When we love and support something (the definition of patriot), we don’t rest on our laurels and blindly ignore hard truths. We work to make changes to help it live up to its ideals.
How to be a Real Patriot at the Polls
If you want to be a real patriot at the polls this November, you’ll need to do some homework beforehand. You’ll want to make a commitment to uncovering the truth, and not just relying on hearsay and gossip (most news sources and political campaign ads).
Real political patriots do their homework. They investigate candidates’ records. Instead of believing a campaign advertisement as gospel truth, they try to figure out the spin. Most politicians don’t outright lie. They mix truth and fiction to paint a flattering portrait.
Don’t let slogans and chants distract you from the truth. Use the Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Political Candidates and do your homework.
1. Analyze political promises.
Make sure you analyze political promises. If, for example, a presidential candidate says he will outlaw abortion, realize that the President of the United States doesn’t actually have the power to do that. More on that in a minute.
2. Understand the roles of each branch of government.
The legislative branch (the house and senate), makes laws. So, a President can’t actually make a law. He or she can suggest legislation to Congress, but all proposed laws must originate from one of the houses of Congress. A President can make an executive order, but the executive order cannot go against the Constitution.
The executive branch enforces the laws. A President has the power to police the citizens (through bureaucracies, departments, and agencies).
The judicial branch interprets the laws. On a national level, judges get appointed for life—the President makes the appointment, but Congress has to approve the appointment. The judicial branch decides whether or not laws are legal according to the Constitution.
The system has checks and balances to prevent any one branch from wresting too much control from the other branches. Checks and balances take time, though, and the political makeup of a Congress, President, or Supreme Court varies.
3. Check a candidate’s record.
You can investigate how the Supreme Court operates by checking out their website Supremecourt.gov.
4. Recognize bias and slant.
The White House also has an official webpage, but it’s controlled by the sitting President and will naturally only have information available that makes the current President look good. A real patriot will search more than one source to discover information about a President.
The congressional and Supreme Court websites provide a less biased picture because the voting records are based on facts, not on making someone look good.
Each senator or representative has a page linked to the official .gov website, and the information on the individual pages will have more biased information.
5. Look for a variety of opinions, assessments, and sources.
We naturally want to find information to support our ideas and opinions. With the availability of information on the Internet, we can always find someone who thinks as we do. Real patriots look thoughtfully at opposing opinions. They don’t rely on a single news source or commentator for their information.
Learn to assess the source for bias and slant. This goes for pretty much any sensational thing that comes up in your Facebook feed. Before you pass things along, go to www.snopes.com and verify them.
6. Download the free Thoughtful Voter’s Guide to Political Candidates to help you sort through your homework.
Real Patriots Don’t Let Their Country Become a Caricature
My time in Europe opened my eyes to how people from other countries saw the United States—and that differed in each country. In Yugoslavia, everyone thought Americans smoked, cursed, and loved Ronald Reagan.
Popular culture from the United States had duped them into thinking a certain way about all U.S. citizens.
What has popular culture duped you into thinking or believing? The great news about humans lies in our ability to learn and change. We might not like the idea of learning new things when the old things feel so comfortable, but we CAN change.
We can stop letting politicians and advertising companies shape our thoughts about candidates and learn to do political homework. The more of us who do our homework, the more informed we will become at the polls.
You still have time to make sure your votes line up with your core values and use the power of your vote to help make our country better.