Samuel Johnson did not mean patriotism per se when he famously called patriotism the last refuge of a scoundrel. He meant false patriotism. The uncritical, unthinking, “Love it or leave it” variety of patriotism. Unfortunately, because this kind of patriotism is louder, angrier, more shameless, and often used deliberately to squash dissent and debate, it often becomes the only recognized form of patriotism.
Progressives, who tend to have a more nuanced, “Love it and fix it” kind of patriotism, often have a harder time finding their full-throated patriotic voice. And, indeed, there are some excellent reasons to be ambivalent about wielding the symbols of our nation. One is the fact that slavery, genocide, war, and other horrors have been carried out in the name of, and with the symbols of, most nations with a colonial history, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and most of western Europe. Another is the conviction that progressives’ greatest strength is a solidarity narrative based on shared class interest and a common humanity that transcends the boundaries of nation states.