Analysis & Comment

Opinion | What Does It Mean to Love Your Country?

In her essay, “Don’t Give Up on America,” Marilynne Robinson describes the “deep if sometimes difficult affinity” she has for her country. At the end of a long, contentious election season, it’s not surprising that Ms. Robinson has become disillusioned with that love affair. “Resentment displaces hope and purpose the way carbon monoxide displaces air,” she writes.

We asked readers to share what makes them love their country, what causes that devotion to waiver and what, if anything, restores their adoration.

“I love most what this country has been at different times in its brief history: a defeater of tyrants, a promulgator of liberty, a beacon of opportunity and hope,” wrote Michael B. Trosino, a reader in Michigan.

Jenn Monroe in New Hampshire focused on the future:

“To love your country is to desire to see it become the best version of itself, to point out its failures, to recognize how we each have been complicit in allowing its worst to persist, to work together to create a community in which every resident has all that they need — love, food, shelter, health, peace, prosperity — and are truly treated as equals in every regard.”

More thoughts from our readers follow. They have been edited for length and clarity.

‘Be proud of it, but not afraid to confront its problems’

To love your country is to be proud of it, but also to not be afraid to confront its problems and work to solve them. I love our blatant freedoms, despite all of the cries of “communism,” “social justice warriors” and “cancel culture.” We are still largely free to do what we want!

I get disillusioned when leaders do nothing to solve problems. The way to manage it is to make them pay electorally. My faith is restored when I see that, despite everything, people generally do hold leaders accountable, as they will in the coming election. The fact that we can indeed fix it, even if it takes some time, gives me great faith in the system and this country. — Aaron Martinez, Dallas

I’m the daughter of a career military man. My patriotism is unwavering. I stand for the national anthem. I wear red, white and blue for every national holiday. I respect every branch of the military and those who have served. Most importantly, I hold my country in my heart and thank God every single day that I’m an American.

I love being free to say what I want to say and live life the way I choose to live it. Freedom is a precious gift. Needless to say, I’m disillusioned with the current state of our government. Riots and looting have destroyed our beautiful city. There is a lack of respect for the police and firefighters who are (for the most part) trying to maintain civility and protect us from the violence that plagues us. — Kathryn Hubbard, Batavia, Ill.

‘To love America you have to love experimentation’

To love America you have to love experimentation because that’s what America is. It’s hard to love a science project; there are so many failures. That’s what motivates some conservatives — an aversion to inevitable failures. I love science, I love exploration, I love learning new things, I love grand accomplishments and spectacular failures and that’s why I love America. Elon Musk came to America to experiment and now he’s going to light up the sky with internet access and he’s going to put people on Mars! How could I not love that? If you don’t fail, you’re playing it too safe. — Charles Becker, Novato, Calif.

Love isn’t passive. It’s not a sit back, relax and enjoy the show kind of deal. To love this country is to look cleareyed at its promises and its practices, working to bridge the gap between them. We are a nation, in Jimmy Carter and Bob Dylan’s phrasing, “busy being born.” Love is a belief not only in what has come, but in the growth that lies ahead. Without it we are “busy dying.” — Emmitt Sklar, Brooklyn, N.Y.

‘I love this land, its beauty, its bounty’

I’m a veteran and am incredibly thankful for the sense of purpose and work ethic I developed during my service. Now, as an engineer, I can begin to return that favor by contributing my expertise to build a better, more sustainable future. The slow, seemingly implacable death of our natural world is difficult to comprehend. I have hope, but little faith, in our ability to restore this planet, and that will have to be enough, because there isn’t anywhere else to go. — Benjamin Cheek, Washington

I live in N.Y.C. Finding nature in the city (red-tailed hawks, migratory birds, the elms in Central Park) enthralls me and makes me believe anything is possible. I love watching the pleasure people take being in city parks — fishing, playing music, relaxing, biking, dancing. That, to me, is the Arcadian ideal. To treat the lands respectfully and sustainably, in memory of the Indigenous peoples who were so violently murdered for it and the slaves who were used to exploit it. — Marcella Durand, New York, N.Y.

I’m a survivor of domestic violence and pervasive sexism that has periodically and unjustly crushed my American dreams for over five decades. Yet I still yearn for my freedom and am linked to others who have been unjustly judged, abused and oppressed. The promise of freedom and equality in our founding and our people’s struggles needs a rebirth that stretches deeper and farther than ever before. I love this land, its beauty, its bounty and all the wild creatures I have seen when visiting wild spaces. We need to embrace the protection of life and liberty for the planet, our fellow creatures and all of humanity. — Kara Steffensen, Eugene, Ore.

‘You can’t love your country without loving your fellow citizens’

To me, love of country is to be gladly anchored to values and customs that are shared by fellow citizens. It is to yearn to try shrimp and grits in South Carolina, seeing a game at Fenway, taking in some jazz in Chicago and watching waves crash against a West Coast shore.

I have never felt so pitted against fellow citizens as I do now. I manage it by reflecting on Lincoln’s observation that a house divided against itself cannot stand. I resolve to mend divisions. — Joel Griffitts, Mapleton, Utah

You can’t love your country without loving your fellow citizens, and the truest expression of that love is the willingness to sacrifice for others. In a healthy society, that willingness to sacrifice would be distributed across the shoulders of many; in ours, it falls heavily on the shoulders of a few. Those who do the most for their country, who become social workers, public defenders, child care workers and teachers — to name a few examples — are punished for it with ever-increasing financial insecurity, poor-to-nonexistent health care, low social standing, and greatly diminished prospects of supporting a family or dying peacefully of old age. — Christopher Dueker, New Hampshire

I think of my love of the U.S. the same way I love my parents and son and husband, a sort of warts-and-all kind of love. I become disillusioned by the acts of hate now prevalent around us; particularly those acts of the state directed at Black citizens. What restores my faith? I look for the helpers. I jump on a League call or donate some time at the local dog shelter and remind myself of all the really truly good people in this wonderful, irritating country of ours. — Jennifer Spillane, Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.

I don’t take for granted the rights and responsibilities that come with our form of government outlined in our Constitution. I recognize the necessity of paying my fair share of taxes in order to provide infrastructure and needed services. When friends and family get compartmentalized in their political labels and we stop listening to each other, I get disillusioned. I manage it by taking a break, working in my garden, reading good fiction, baking for my husband and friends. My faith is restored by others who do the same and who refuse to give up. — Barbara Quijada, Tempe, Ariz.

Ensure those less fortunate can ‘stand themselves up with dignity’

Love of country is to seek its betterment. I express that love by caring for those who are disenfranchised, misunderstood and in need. The Me Too and Black Lives Matter movements have given me more hope than I have had in decades. To see a sea of women’s faces that also include men who believe that sexual abuse and misogyny must go, to see all ages and colors of thousands of people participate in the Black Lives Matter movement, that gives me profound hope and faith. — Laura Thornton, Southington, Conn.

I love my country because I wouldn’t be alive or be an American citizen without my great-grandfather leaving a life of poverty and starvation in southern Italy to come here. To love your country is to ensure that those less fortunate, like my great-grandfather, are given the resources and assistance they need to stand themselves up with dignity, create a new life for themselves here and become productive citizens who proudly and lovingly call this place home. I used to express this love by volunteering a lot more than I do these days: Answering calls on the AIDS crisis hotline in the early days of the epidemic, serving meals and giving Christmas presents to the poor and homeless. Today I mostly express that love by donating money. — David Joseph Ruyle, Dallas

‘To love your country is to believe in its ideals’

To my surprise, reading the Bible in one year helped me see that we have always wandered away from God/good to worship gold. It is a constant struggle to return, but most people seem to continue to try. I am inspired by the words “in God we trust,” the golden rule — to love one’s neighbor as oneself, the dawning realization that here on earth we are all one another’s neighbors and the words Anne Frank wrote in her diary which continue to inspire decades after her death at the hands of pure evil and ignorance: “In spite of everything I still believe that people are really good at heart.” — Lisa DeLille Bolton, Nashville

To love your country is to believe in its ideals. When I was younger, I would celebrate America on the Fourth of July, in a shirt with an American flag watching fireworks with my parents. I lost my love for America when I was 16 and Trump won the election. I woke up crying on Nov. 9 and the pain has never lessened. I think it’s dangerous to love your country so deeply. I am 20 now and my jaw feels permanently clenched. Do I have faith that things will get better in America? Ask me in December. — Emma Hinchcliffe, California

I have dual citizenship with Ireland and have seriously considered leaving America. But while I honor other countries, I love ours and cannot bring myself to leave. I want us to emerge from these terrible times stronger and more humble, resilient and focused on the common good, firm in the belief that Black lives matter and that we can rescue our planet from annihilation. I find faith in the decency of the American people and the hope of the American dream. — Kathleen A. Conway, Tempe, Ariz.

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