What defines a patriot?

Expropriation — the act of taking someone’s private property for a public purpose — generates considerable controversy whenever it occurs. Some people argue it should never be done at all. Most people think it has a legitimate purpose, but should be employed sparingly, and only when there is no viable alternative.

I’m in the latter camp. 

There are times when taking private property for a public benefit is the only viable way to accomplish something that society needs.

But trying to expropriate a descriptive word that has universal meaning in the general public, and use it for exclusive purposes rather than inclusive ones, is inappropriate at the very least.

That’s the opposite of expropriation. It’s taking something from the general public for private use instead.

For centuries, the word “patriot” has meant loyalty to one’s nation, regardless of who happens to be governing at any given time. 

I personally like Mark Twain’s definition: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”

For several months, President Trump has appropriated “patriot” to mean someone who supports him and his agenda. 

His definition excludes most Democrats and the many independents who oppose him. It’s how he uses the word in his tweets and his remarks.

To Trump and his supporters, Americans for whom gun ownership tops their political list are patriots. Those who want a border wall are patriots. 

And, of course, those who oppose his impeachment are patriots. 

Trump also uses the word to characterize Americans who have been damaged by his policies but who support him nevertheless. Those groups include farmers hurt by his trade and ethanol policies and federal employees who sustained short-term economic loss during the government shutdown, but who still remained loyal to him.

Everyone knows we have major political divisions in this country. People have widely divergent political priorities and prescriptions.

But to exclude someone from the category of “patriot” because he or she doesn’t subscribe to a particular set of political principles is slanderous.

It’s similar to applying a general term like “Christian” only to those who hold to a specific set of beliefs, rather than to the hundreds of millions of those worldwide who profess Christianity as their religion.

Or calling one house of Congress “do-nothing” because that house hasn’t approved legislation in line with one’s own political priorities. 

The Democratic House of Representatives has sent several hundred bills to the Republican Senate that lie on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s desk — bills for instance that deal with mandatory gun background checks, violence against women and a higher federal minimum wage. 

The Republican Senate, and President Trump, would love to see the Democratic House approve tougher border controls, more stringent abortion legislation and additional tax cuts. Those bills are highly unlikely to be debated on the House floor.

So each house refers to the other as “do-nothing.” 

At the start of the new year it would be a welcome change if politicians would halt such mischaracterizations. 

The term “20-20” means perfect vision. 

This would be the ideal year for it.

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