In this photo from the 2016 campaign, President (then candidate) Donald Trump hugs the American flag as he arrives at a rally in Tampa, Florida.

In this photo from the 2016 campaign, President (then candidate) Donald Trump hugs the American flag as he arrives at a rally in Tampa, Florida.

How did a protest about police brutality turn into a fight over the meaning of the American flag?

When President Donald Trump called out football players who take a knee during the performance of the national anthem, he did so by questioning their patriotism and their respect for the U.S. flag. But how does the flag figure into a debate over police officers’ treatment of African-Americans? And how can a protest become unpatriotic in a nation with a constitution that enshrines the right to speak out?


  • Soraya McDonald Culture critic, The Undefeated; @SorayaMcDonald
  • Tim Graham Executive Editor, NewsBusters; director of Media Analysis, Media Research Center
  • Wade Davis Former NFL player; senior diversity and inclusion consultant, YSC non-profit out of New York
  • Paul Butler Georgetown University Law Center professor and former federal prosecutor; author of the book "Chokehold: Policing Black Men"

What Does Patriotism Mean To You?

We asked the members of the 1A Text Club (you can join by texting 1A to 63735 and leave by texting “stop”) what patriotism means to them. Here are a few responses:

  • Patriotism means honoring American values; respecting all of the parts of the constitution, not just the ones we like; and believing that equality, liberty, and justice for all, really means all Americans. Clearly, free speech, as these athletes today are exercising it, comes in many forms.  They aren’t hurting anyone, so they should have their say. I am a Naval Academy grad (1976) and was a Marine Infantry officer for 20 years.  My commissioning oath didn’t parse out that I protect some Americans and ignore the rest.
  • I’m so excited to be asked this. Ever since the terrorist attacks of 9/11 I’ve been deeply disturbed by the blurring of the patriotism and nationalism. Patriotism, to me, means having deep love for and investment in your country.  A true patriot will actively work to bring her country and its entire citizenry to a place of peace, prosperity, good global standing and enlightenment. I believe that true patriots do not blindly assert their country’s supremacy or dominance on the global stage but rather hold lofty goals for progress and problem-solving capabilities, strive for constant improvement and embrace change where it would benefit the majority of its people. Let nationalists wave the “we’re number one” foam fingers and constantly insist that we are the best despite hard data to the contrary.
  • It means preserving the rights and values we hold dear: Peaceful assembly, free speech, free press.  The symbol of our country can’t just be a flag or a song.
  • To me, even though I am not a citizen of the US, patriotism means supporting my community, and standing up for what is right in this country that I have chosen as my home.
  • Patriotism means trying to make your country better. It doesn’t mean ignoring your country’s flaws and sins.
  • It means loyalty to our country, but not necessarily agreeing with everything those elected to lead the country say and believe.  It also means supporting the principles of our Founding Fathers, our constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
  • Patriotism does not have to require an unwavering and complete loyalty and support for your government’s actions and policies, although it seems that is how it is often defined nowadays. Patriotism is a belief in your country, fellow countrymen-and-women, and in their effort to improve the nation. The nation is not synonymous with the government. You can be patriotic without having pride in the faults or shortcomings of your government or your nation’s past. Citizens should be patriots by focusing their energy on acknowledging what their nation should stand for.
  • These days, when I hear the current administration use it, it seems as if “Patriotism” is code for homogeneous societal beliefs based on white supremacy.  It should not be this way, when all Americans have their civil right clearly spelled out in the constitution.
  • It means caring enough to constructively criticize the country and not ignorantly assuming it is issueless and exemplar. It means learning about and talking about our history and how it has socialized us today.
  • I am glad to be an American.  I do not agree with all of the talk that people who do not salute a flag or pledge an allegiance are somehow less patriotic or love their country less.
  • I have always teared up when I hear and sing the national anthem. I have a fierce loyalty to our United States. I recently did a DNA test. It turns out I have numerous relatives who fought in the American Revolution. I wonder if my intense loyalty and patriotism is genetic.
  • Patriotism means giving the full measure of respect to all persons irrespective of my agreement or disagreement with them. It also means being willing to serve my country whether called upon to do so or not.
  • Patriotism means loving the country on an emotional level, like a family member. Being attached, willing to sacrifice and willing to criticize, if necessary, because you can see your loved one has potential. It includes some obligations – voting, jury duty, following just laws, and agitating against unjust laws.
  • Patriotism isn’t about making people stand for a flag… It’s about making a country people want to stand up for.
  • Patriotism is respect for the history and adversity that various individuals have endured as part of the American experience. Some gave their lives,  some made a scientific break through, some came with nothing and created lives from ashes, some descended from slaves to be free men today. Patriotism isn’t one experience. It is the crazy quilt of vibrant mixed experiences that comes together in a complex display. To protest the national anthem to me says, “none of these other experiences matters.” It is wrong to ignore the one experience but it is just as wrong to disrespect the entire quilt for the one.
  • At this time patriotism means paying attention to what’s going on.  Not blindly approving of what actions the government takes. Our government is made of people, they have the same good and bad points as anyone else, so it is the duty of the citizens of this country to demand that they are held to the standards that is set by the Constitution and the laws of our nation. Our history has shown that our government hasn’t always met these standards, we must strive to make our government the most perfect version it can be.
  • I served in the military for 25 years. I fought in combat. I did so because the freedom to kneel during the anthem is what makes the country great. I am shamed by POTUS.
  • I’m a veteran and being a patriot is fighting for equality for all U.S. citizens to have justice for ALL. Uniting instead of persecuting our own Americans for exercising their rights that men & women in uniform fight for.
  • In today’s culture I associate patriotism, and the ideal that our country is righteous above all else, with the white supremacist movement that has come as a result of electing a white supremacist as president.
  • Patriotism means having a healthy relationship with the history, values and mores of the country you live in.  It is not connected to a symbol,  statue, or person. It is an interactive,  reciprocal respect for and honor of the journey a land has traveled.
  • Patriotism means participating in democracy, it means speaking up when you see something wrong, and fighting for the right cause even if it’s the hard thing to do. Patriotism is a term that is leveraged to pin one side verse the other and that is not patriotism.
  • Patriotism is pride in my heritage.  Not necessarily pride in my current government. Support for our military men and woman but not support for war.

Some of these messages have been edited. 

Related Links

Topics + Tags


comments powered by Disqus
Most Recent Shows