Patriotism is more than flag waving


Patriotism is not the exclusive property of any one group. Showing real devotion to this country takes more than waving a flag and snarling at someone who doesn’t. It starts with understanding what this nation is supposed to be about.

I got caught up Sunday night in watching the latest installment in Ken Burns’ epic series about the Vietnam war. Given current events, it seemed an oddly appropriate thing to do.

The show focused on the late 1960s, a particularly volatile time in that war. Americans were beginning to realize their government was feeding them a load of bunk about what was happening in that faraway country.

Students were taking to the streets in protest, and many of them burned U.S. flags. Many who supported the war argued that anyone who believed differently was unpatriotic. That seems to happen any time the authority of a president is questioned like we’re seeing now.

Here’s a quote from a pretty patriotic guy that might lend some perspective.

“If men are to be precluded from offering their sentiments on a matter, which may involve the most serious and alarming consequences that can invite the consideration of mankind, reason is of no use to us; the freedom of speech may be taken away, and dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep, to the slaughter.”

George Washington said that.

George and many of this nation’s founders, which some on the right embrace when it suits them, would appalled by President Trump’s reaction to the protest by National Football players who chose to kneel during the national anthem.

That includes Tampa Bay Buccaneers players Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn locked arms with his players on the sideline in a show of solidarity before their game Sunday. In a direct shot at President Trump, Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross noted, “Our country needs unifying leadership right now, not more divisiveness.”

Alas, the nation’s Tweeter-in-Chief once again has mistaken division for leadership. At a rally, he said anyone who kneels in protest is a “son of a bitch.” So, here we go again. We’re deep enough into this astonishing presidency to understand this is the way it’s going to be.

He is so ill-informed and lacking in circumspection that he doesn’t realize the protest isn’t about the U.S. flag or patriotism, at least it wasn’t at the start. It began as former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick taking a knee to highlight what he believes is racial injustice in this country. Trump, however, is succeeding in making the protest all about him.

It must be at least a little awkward for high-ranking Republicans from Florida – particularly Sen. Marco Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott.

Publicly denouncing this man would be statesmanlike, but both seem more interested in pushing through political agendas no matter the compromise that takes.

It hasn’t been business as usual in this country since Jan. 20 of this year, when this president took over. At the rate we’re going, I’m not sure how long it will take to get back to a semblance of what used to be normal.

Our friends in Puerto Rico and the Caribbean are in ruins. Mexico, which Trump wants to wall-off, was staggered by a major earthquake. A lunatic in North Korea wants to vaporize us. Who knows what chicanery Russia is up to this week.

And our president wants to pick a fight with athletes who exercise their freedom of expression?

For a final thought, let’s go back to the Vietnam war.

I graduated high school at the height of that war. I dutifully registered for the draft, but wasn’t called because my lottery number was 275.

I attended funerals of guys my age who died over there. One of my classmates won a Congressional Medal of Honor for gallantry I can’t even fathom.

It is possible to respect the sacrifice everyone made there and still be against the war, and I was. I believe strongly that the relentless protests in this country against the Vietnam “conflict” (like leaders wanted to call it) helped save lives by pressuring this nation to end the war.

Being an American means you can do that and still love this country. Anyone who says otherwise is flat out wrong.

Before joining, Joe Henderson had a 45-year career in newspapers, including 42 years at The Tampa Tribune. Henderson has numerous local, state and national writing awards. His column appears courtesy of


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