American exceptionalism and patriotic correctness

The American flag is one of the many symbols of American patriotism and love for one's country. (Eric Lynch/Creative Commons Flickr)

One of the notions that comes up a lot in political discourse is the idea of American exceptionalism, or that the United States is superior to all other countries. To a certain extent this form of nationalism persists in every country, and it is often considered a positive trait associated with patriotism and the love of one’s country. While this idea can be benign and indeed positive up to a point, we run the risk of restricting constructive conversation if we immerse ourselves too deeply in the notion of our country’s inherent superiority.

To be fair, the United States is a pretty awesome country and, personally, I’m very lucky to have been born here. To have the rights and opportunities we do is something too many of us take for granted. Freedom of speech, freedom of religion and other freedoms are central to what makes the United States a good country. In addition, our system of government has brought us stability. None of us have to worry that our houses are going to be blown up by aircraft or that the government might execute us or our family for no reason.

That being said, patriotic correctness is born when we refuse to see the flaws in our country because we love it. This could be anything from recognizing the racism still present in our society, the fact we lag behind many other countries when it comes to education, not guaranteeing healthcare when every other advanced country does or just not acknowledging some of the crimes we have committed in terms of war and our treatment of other countries. Some people will try to shut out any discussion of these and other issues by accusing the other person of being unpatriotic. My favorite line is when someone tells you to “get out” if you don’t like the way things are.

This is a foolish retort that demonstrates the speaker’s inability to grasp the true meaning of caring about one’s country. If you care about something or someone you don’t abandon them just because they have flaws. You also don’t pretend those flaws don’t exist. If you care about them, it means you are dedicated to fixing those flaws. For this to happen, for our country to make progress on the issues we face, we first must admit to ourselves that our country is far from perfect and that there are many things we should and, in many cases, need to change. We must not let the love of our country blind us to its faults.

It is imperative to keep striving to make the United States a better place, and to better ourselves as a people. If people are protesting, it is not helpful to be dismissive towards them by accusing them of being unpatriotic. You may not agree with someone’s method of protest (such as kneeling during the national anthem), but that should almost be considered separately of what they are protesting.

Colin Kaepernick’s protest was viewed as disrespectful by many, but I have noticed that we lack consistency when it comes to what is disrespectful and what is not. Many of the people who spoke out against refusing to stand for the national anthem are the same who argue most fervently for the importance of displaying the confederate flag at government buildings and in the corner of the Mississippi state flag. It seems to me, and correct me if I’m wrong, that displaying the battle flag of treasonous states that left the union to continue their practice of enslaving an entire people is a little more disrespectful than refusing to stand for the national anthem because you believe the country oppresses minorities.

Yes, America is a great country that provides many rights and opportunities for its citizens, but we have also committed numerous atrocities in our history, domestic and foreign, and it is important we recognize this along with the great things we have done. We learn more from our mistakes than our successes. Therefore, it is imperative we do not become blind to our failures if we want to progress and grow as a people.


Jacob Kowalski is a weekly columnist to The Daily Campus opinion section. He can be reached via email at jacob.kowalski@uconn.edu.