From the Editor: What is a Patriot?

Dave Ghose
Columbus Monthly
Franklin County coroner Dr. Anahi Ortiz

The word keeps coming up—in the Twitter feeds of election fraud fabulists, in the combative language of Trump cronies, in the real-time accounts of the horrifying events of Jan. 6. “Hello, patriots,” said the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., greeting the MAGA masses at the “Save America” rally. “Today is the day American patriots start taking down names and kicking ass,” said U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, another rally speaker. “Hold the line, patriots. Hold the line,” said an insurrectionist wearing a fur hat with horns, just before he and other members of a Trump-incited mob breached the U.S. Capitol.

This patriotic fervor was no surprise. Politicians have wrapped themselves in the flag and nationalism since the birth of this country. But the phenomenon reached a new level under Donald Trump, beginning with his January 2017 inauguration, which he declared a “National Patriotic Day of Devotion.” That additional word, “devotion,” hints at Trump’s view of patriotism. He sees it as a means to build his cult of personality—and he’s doing it by corrupting our language. As I listened to Trump supporters repeatedly calling themselves “patriots,” I thought of the famous line from “The Princess Bride”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Yes, American patriots love their country and honor their past. But they also believe in truth, free speech, charity and compassion. “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually,” wrote James Baldwin in “Notes of a Native Son.”

In this issue, you’ll find plenty of real patriots. Since taking office in 2014, Franklin County Coroner Anahi Ortiz has refused to let her fellow Central Ohioans ignore the human cost of the overdose epidemic (“Anahi Ortiz Speaks for the Dead”). You also can read about a group of Central Ohio artists who decided to honor frontline health care workers, showcasing them in artworks that capture the pride, sacrifice and resilience of these COVID-19 heroes (“Portraits of the Pandemic”).

And you’ll find a real patriot in my household. A couple of days after the storming of the Capitol, my 11-year-old daughter received some welcome news. The Veterans of Foreign Wars District 11 had named her a top-three honoree in its Patriot's Pen writing contest. In her essay—titled “What is a Patriot?”—written without any help from her parents, this granddaughter of a World War II veteran and an Indian immigrant defined patriots as those who stand up “to injustice, to cruelty and to inhumanity.”

Thank God someone knows what patriotism means.