As is the case during most periods of intense political competition in the United States, people are now threatening to abandon America for the peace and good governance of Canada in the event that their candidate does not win the presidential election. I generally dismiss this kind of talk as meaningless chatter, but for the first time, members of my own family are saying that they cannot remain in America if the wrong person wins the election, so I feel a need to explain why I intend to be a resident and citizen of the United States until the day I die.

Patriotism is a loaded word. It is associated with nationalism, a sentiment dismissed as archaic by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s quote in the ICC Galleria: “The Age of Nations is past.” Nationalism itself is associated with xenophobic bigotry and anti-individualist brainwashing. What are nations, after all, but artificial creations that enforce false divisions? Why should anyone give his or her allegiance to a flag?

The United States is not merely the country in which I was born. It is the country that shares my ideals. I consider myself a patriot because I accept the challenge given to Americans by the country’s founders. It is fair to say that the founders themselves did not live up to the challenges they themselves set forth. They were mostly sexist, racist aristocrats who did not want to pay taxes (Britain demanded that they help pay for a very expensive war that took place in North America, which seems reasonable enough). The consequence of their words in the Constitution, however, has been the emergence of a country that is far more liberal and tolerant than the one they inhabited. Those words continue to challenge us today, as we struggle to create a more just and perfect society despite the distractions and complications of an uncertain and sometimes threatening world.

In 1952, Adlai Stevenson defined American patriotism with far greater eloquence than I can muster. “What do we mean by patriotism?” he asked. “I venture to suggest that what we mean is a sense of national responsibility which will enable America to remain master of her power – to walk with it in serenity and wisdom, with self-respect and the respect of all mankind; a patriotism that puts country ahead of self; a patriotism which is not short, frenzied outbursts of emotion, but the tranquil and steady dedication of a lifetime.”

Stevenson recognized that American patriotism is not a culture of revenge or death. Though we honor those who have given their lives in the defense of our nation and her interests, we do not and should not hope to find ourselves among them. American patriots choose to live lives humbly dedicated to the principles of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” We embrace the challenge of seeking to expand and secure those rights for people everywhere.

Americans have not always lived up to these challenges. For long periods of our history, our government denied these rights to African Americans, women, Chinese immigrants, Japanese citizens, homosexuals, the mentally ill and the poor. To this day, there are people who live in America but are unable to enjoy life with the freedom and security the Constitution seems to guarantee. Charges that human rights are violated are constantly raised and debated. The American experiment is not complete.

The correct responses to these failures have always been championed by those who recognize not that America has flawed values, but that Americans are failing to live up to their country’s true values. The American dedication to country is one of constant desire for improvement. In 1872, then-Senator Carl Schurz famously declared, “My country, right or wrong; if right, to be kept right; and if wrong, to be set right.”

When I travel abroad, I often encounter stereotypes of Americans, some of which are very close to the mark. Americans are thought to be arrogant, loud, rude and ignorant of the cultures of other countries. These observations, which are shared with me by many people upon hearing that I am American, reinforces an American stereotype of foreigners: They love to complain about Americans.

Such characterizations are true of many Americans. However, it is also true that most Americans feel strongly that all people should have the opportunity to live as they choose. Another stereotype of Americans is that they pity foreigners who they think do not enjoy the same freedoms they do. This attitude is held by many, and it is regrettable when it betrays a lack of understanding of foreign governments. However, it is rooted in a deep sense that all humans are equal and that all deserve opportunities for happiness. For whatever offense this attitude may cause, it might at least be seen as a demonstration of compassion. And that may forgive almost everything else.

The United States is a nation of individuals, and among them there exist myriad opinions about what the country is or should be. There is only one attitude that is almost universally considered un-American, and that is the attitude of defeat. American patriots believe that we are engaged in a great project that requires unyielding devotion and challenge. When faced with difficulty, patriots must improve their country, not abandon it. I will remain a patriot no matter who becomes president in this or any election because America is not defined by its leaders or its history; it is defined by its efforts.

William Quinn is a junior in the School of Foreign Service and a former staff sergeant in the United States Army. He can be reached at AIMLESS FEET appears every other Tuesday.

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