The Cryptoquote that appeared in today's paper is (probably not accidentally) particularly apropos the holiday: "Patriotism is easy to understand in America. It means looking out for yourself by looking out for your country." It's attributed to Calvin Coolidge. Now I don't know much about the Coolidge Presidency but I think that's a pretty good quote no matter what your politics are.
Lots of people call themselves "patriots" but my sense is that many of them define the label in terms that consider their own interests over those of the nation as a whole, and they generally deny application of the label to anyone whose views may differ from their own. I've expressed my own views on divisive politics in this space before so I won't belabor the point today.
The Coolidge quote is, I think, evocative of another more famous quote by a later president, JFK - the "Ask not what your country can do for you..." speech that was such a seminal moment for the young people of my generation (well, we used to be young, anyway.) Both men were expressing a simple yet critical axiom: the interests of the nation, i.e., We the People, are greater than the interests of any of the individual citizens (we the persons?) Simple but profound, I think.
So here's my hope: That on July 4, 2011, every citizen of these United States will find a way, even if it's a very small way, to be patriotic a la Coolidge and Kennedy. Just remembering why we have the holiday to begin with might be a good place to start.