As we celebrate the Fourth of July, just what is an American patriot?

Beware of those who do proclaim themselves to be patriots — apparently because nobody else will, writes guest columnist Jim Jones.

July 4, 2022 4:30 am
Abraham Lincoln Memorial

The Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, March 27, 2022. (Marisa Demarco/Source New Mexico)

As the nation observes the 246th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, we will often hear mention of patriots and patriotism. But, just what does it mean to be a patriot?

The dictionary defines the term as “a person who vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” That definition clearly fits many people who Americans hold dear in their hearts.

Some of America’s very first patriots were those who put their signatures to that revered Declaration. We swell with pride for this country when hearing these stirring words: “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.” Those words were followed by a long list of grievances against King George, many of which would have condemned the signers to prison or death, as they well knew. They concluded the Declaration, saying, “we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” All of those precious things were truly at risk.

Those who fought in the Revolutionary War and all who have fought in our country’s wars since, save and except those who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War, are American patriots. Many who have labored tirelessly to support and safeguard American ideals fit the definition. Abraham Lincoln, who led the fight to preserve the Union and abolish the stain of slavery, was one of our greatest patriots.

There have been patriots worthy of mention in just the last few years – people who have put their safety and security at risk to protect the American form of government. Although I’ve had little regard for the man in the past, recent revelations put former Vice President Mike Pence in the patriot category. He literally risked his life resisting extreme pressure to overturn the results of a fair and honest election. 

Two Trump appointees at the U.S. Department of Justice, acting Attorney General Jeff Rosen and his deputy Richard Donoghue, kept our government from careening into chaos in a heated White House meeting on Jan. 3, 2021. When the former president asked them what they would do if he replaced them with a sycophant who’d agreed to cooperate in trying to overturn the presidential election, they were prepared. They informed Trump that the top leadership in the Justice Department would resign en masse, which stopped the plot in its tracks. Rosen and Donoghue are true American patriots for putting themselves at risk to protect the country. 

U.S. Reps. Adam Kinzinger and Liz Cheney are rare examples of federal elected officials willing to risk their positions and even their lives by standing up for America. They have certainly earned patriot status.

The interesting thing about patriots is that they rarely give themselves that title. Beware of those who do proclaim themselves to be patriots (apparently because nobody else will). Numerous of the unconscionable insurrectionists who defiled the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, falsely claimed to be patriots. Nothing could be further from the truth – they were common criminals, at best.

Here in Idaho, we have seen a number of instances of people self-describing themselves as patriots. The Panhandle Patriots Riding Club threatened to disrupt a peaceful gathering in a Coeur d’Alene park on June 11, hardly the conduct you would expect of real patriots. The day of the gathering, 31 misfits, who called themselves the Patriot Front, were caught in a U-Haul truck before they could wreak havoc at the park. Certainly not the stuff of patriots.

As we enjoy our Fourth of July weekend, let’s give thanks for the real patriots who have labored, sacrificed and all-too-often died to establish and maintain this country and our marvelous form of government. We certainly have our problems, but if each one of us shoulders some of the patriotic burden, there is nothing we can’t overcome in unison. After all, we are the United States of America.

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Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Jim Jones served as Idaho attorney general for eight years (1983-1991) and as a justice of the Idaho Supreme Court for 12 years (2005-2017). His weekly columns are collected at