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How do you define patriotism?

Are you a "my country, love it or leave it" sort of patriot? Or maybe you're an "if you want to live here, speak the language" type of flag waver.

Then again, you might be one of those "freedom of speech means freedom of speech for all, not some" liberals. Or perhaps your patriotism means “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” 

That last was from the Statue of Liberty if you don't recognize it. The others are dueling bumper stickers.

It's more important than ever to decide what we mean by patriotism — and that's not just because the Fourth of July is next Tuesday. We have seldom come into an Independence Day a more divided nation than this Independence Day.

I'll grant you, we're not at Civil War level yet. For that matter, the civil rights movement of the early 1960s probably created a deeper divide.

But it is bad today — really bad. I know I can't remember a more polarized time in our country.

I've complained for years about the divisive politics in Washington D.C. and how the all-or-nothing attitude of Republicans and Democrats alike has resulted in a gridlocked government. But it's getting worse. About the only thing the left and the right seem able to agree on is that the rhetoric has become hurtful and hateful.

When people start claiming they've got a corner on what it means to be an American, we've got trouble.

Let's take a look at what started it all.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed."

Sound familiar? It should. It is from the preamble of the Declaration of Independence (they had weird capitalization rules back then).

Allow me to interpret this statement a bit. When it says all men are created equal, I take it to mean all men (and women), not just the ones who were born here, or who have the same skin color I do, or even worship the same way that I do.

Unless I'm mistaken, the phrase "endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable Rights" means there are rights that can't be taken away just because someone wants to take them away. Then it says governments only work when the governed agree to be governed. (I love that last one. It's a great phrase for logic class.)

With that as background, who do you think is a patriot?

I have to admit, you can shoehorn a lot of definitions in there. But I have a hard time with those who think they have some sort of exclusivity clause on patriotism, especially after reading this over. There seems to be an attitude today where people say, we're all equal, but I'm more equal than you.

Here's a suggestion of how it might work, at least a little better. It comes from my relationship with that Creator.

I go to a conservative church. So conservative that we're considered evangelistic (that's sometimes used as code for right wing).

What brings us together is our shared belief in God. From that shared belief, we learn to tolerate — no, to accept — the other differences amongst us. I'm probably one of the most liberal men politically in our church, but I'm still welcomed into the fellowship to serve a greater common good.

Different people coming together for a greater common good, like, say America. I'd call those people patriots. How about you?

Happy Independence Day.

Harry has been executive editor of Gazette Newspapers for more than 26 years. He has been in the newspaper business for more than 35 years, with experience on both weekly and metropolitan daily papers in Colorado and California.

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