In the late 1990s and the early 2000s, politicians have tried to impose the definition of "patriotism" through contrived symbols and slogans—flag lapel pins, laws to protect Old Glory from desecration, speeches ending with "God bless America," slogans such as "Support the troops."
Posturing and claiming to be patriotic is pure stagecraft.
Deeds such as selflessness, sacrifice and pulling together as a nation speak much louder of national spirit and pride.
With duly noted and obvious exceptions, Americans as a people have continued their ways throughout every recent national crisis without giving up much. The tone of live-and-be-merry in a crisis was pretty much defined when President George W. Bush said in late September 2001 after 9/11, "Take your families and enjoy life, the way we want it to be enjoyed." No hint of marshaling Americans to sacrifice.
Today's painful economic consequences are the fruits of a nation with a huge appetite for easy credit and over-borrowing aided by accommodating lenders with questionable scruples.
The most recent model of true, sweeping national patriotism was back in World War II, when Americans volunteered by the millions for military and homeland wartime duties, endured shortages of clothing, food and fuel, linked arms politically to do whatever was needed to conquer a foe and sacrificed when asked.
That determination and national unity is urgently needed now to conquer foes just as lethal as overseas military forces.
If Americans don't close ranks and commit themselves to act on threats to the planet's environment, and likewise attack root causes of the debilitating economy, then, as Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman wrote in a recent column, they will have engaged in a form of treason against their country's interests.
As President Obama also tries to bring reform to the nation's financially ruinous health care system, there is no patriotism in health care interest groups staking out positions solely to protect big profits.
Likewise, conservative ideologues who customarily claim to be more patriotic than others show no patriotism in opposing public-health options for consumers. Consumers and employers, too, may be called on to sacrifice in this reform with more taxes and restricted services.
Ordinary citizens can be excused for dismay when Washington's naysayers explain away their steady opposition to President Obama's legislation as serving the public interest, as if self-serving partisan obstructionism is the political equivalent of combat duty in Iraq and Afghanistan, where real patriotism is on display 24/7.