A true patriot is entering White House, not leaving it

Real American patriotism involves acknowledging our inability to fully live up to our lofty ideals, and fighting to do better 


AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

Drones spelling out “46” light up the sky as President-elect Biden appears on a video monitor after giving his acceptance speech

It has been a long time since many of us felt proud to be American. The bitter rancor and division of the past four years have made espousing such pride difficult.

On Saturday, Nov. 7, President-elect Joe Biden gave a speech that reminded us of how, at its best, America stands as a beacon of hope. Echoing Lincoln, he proclaimed that it is “time for our better angels to prevail.” 

As I watched Biden’s speech and then the fireworks show afterward, I recalled President Trump’s Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore. These speeches present two wildly different visions of what American patriotism should look like—we as U.S. citizens, regardless of one’s political party or ideological affiliation, ought to embrace Biden’s version of patriotism. 

President Trump’s Fourth of July speech at Mount Rushmore was the main attraction of the 2020 “Salute to America,” an Independence Day celebration with flyovers and fireworks that the Trump administration first put on in 2019. It exalted America’s cultural and military accomplishments, serving as a pageant of American exceptionalism.

“Thanks to the courage of those patriots of July 4th, 1776, the American Republic stands today as the greatest, most exceptional, and most virtuous nation in the history of the world,” said President Trump. 

Such unconditional patriotism, while perhaps appealing in some ways, rings hollow. 

As any sports fan will tell you, a player who has to call him or herself the GOAT (greatest of all time) most likely isn’t the GOAT. The accomplishments of all-time sporting greats like Tom Brady, Serena Williams, and Michael Jordan speak for themselves. 

To call the United States the “most virtuous nation in the history of the world” reflects an immense degree of hubris. While this statement is arguably true, claiming it as fact brushes aside unvirtuous features of America in the past and present. 

As a nation, we have never fully lived up to our lofty ideals—democracy, liberty, equality opportunity, etc. From slavery, America’s original sin, to the various nativist movements that have emerged throughout our history, forces of injustice and bigotry have always competed against our “better angels.” 

Biden’s speech called for America to live up to its values. “With full hearts and steady hands, with faith in America and each other, with a love of country—and a thirst for justice—let us be the nation that we know we can be,” said the President-elect. 

In urging us to “be the nation that we know we can be,” Biden hit the nail on the head regarding what a true American patriot looks like. 

A true American patriot acknowledges that America has never fully lived up to its lofty ideals, and likely never will, but believes in our national ability to do better. We must have pride in being American, not because we think we’re the “most virtuous nation in the history of the world,” but because we believe in our nation’s foundational values and the never-ending mission to put them into practice. 

None of this is about hate for America or believing that America is corrupt to the core. It is about recognizing that we must always fight for a government for and by the people, that we will never truly achieve this goal, but we fulfill the mission by undertaking it in the first place. 

It extends beyond partisan politics or ideological squabbles and encompasses all Americans who want to believe in their country. 

During a global pandemic and a national reckoning with racial injustice, such true American patriotism is more important than ever. While I don’t agree with Joe Biden on all the issues—I tend to lean more progressive—I believe that he is the man to lead us to “be the nation that we know we can be.” 

But it doesn’t stop with Biden, or with any other elected officials, or public figures, for that matter. We must all have faith in the power of the American experiment as a force for change that is good and then fight for that change. 

In the 2020 election, our nation’s foundational values—democracy, liberty, opportunity, equality—narrowly won out against our darkest impulses. While America will always be defined by the antagonism between these impulses and our “better angels,” let’s embrace true American patriotism and make the most of the next four years.