Forecaster Forum: There's a difference between patriotism and nationalism

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In his book “On Tyranny,” Yale University history professor Timothy Snyder describes a patriot as someone who lives up to his country’s ideals and strives to be his or her best self, resisting the baser instincts.

A patriot has universal values and standards by which he and the nation are judged. And he or she is always striving to do better.

A nationalist encourages us to be our worst, and then tells us we are the best. They brood on power, victory, defeat and revenge, according to George Orwell.

Truth is defined as the resentment we feel when we contemplate others. And there is encouragement to be seduced by a mythical idealized past, instead of solving today’s problems to create a better future.

Democracy has failed before in Europe and can fail again here if not stopped by patriots.

Patriots will do what they need to in order to avoid tyranny. They are courageous; defend and look at ways to strengthen institutions; behave ethically; stand out by example; make eye contact, and speak up. They avoid blind obedience to authority, support multi-party democracy, read widely and use language carefully.

A patriot will try to separate what they hear – versus what they want to hear – in the search for truth and avoidance of magical thinking. They are very careful about what they forward on the internet before it is verified to be true. They support researched journalism. They know that common knowledge and awareness of history binds us together as a society.

When needed, patriots will take to the streets and protest peacefully. If terrorism occurs, they must be vigilant against a tyrant’s desire to take control and suspend rights, which has happened with Russia’s Putin and Turkey’s Erdogan.

Democracy is defended by its patriotic military and checks and balances in the three branches of government, but it is best defended by its own citizens.

Portland resident Ruth Matt is a financial adviser and the mother of Sgt. Peter Matt, who just completed five years as a U.S. Marine.

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  • Ted Markow

    Well said, Ruth – kudos for a well-written piece.

    Unfortunately, jingoism is often conflated with patriotism. They couldn’t be more different. Jingoism is cynical, tawdry, and often incites enmity and violence. We see jingoism at recent political conventions and rallies, at sports events, and in flag-waving obeisance to whatever or whomever pushes the buttons of some.

    Much is written and said about the patriotism of those serving in our military, but nothing is said of citizens who protest and dissent and write letters and exercise what needs to be exercised in a nation with democratic ideals. They are all patriots and we forget that at our peril. Thank you for reminding us.

    So, yes – thanks to your son Peter for serving, but also thanks to the nameless millions who serve in many ways to keep this country on the constant path toward the best of who we are.