I often find myself wishing the conversation about what it means to love America were a little more thoughtful. When trying to answer questions like these, it feels right to start with the least controversial answer. Why not begin where we can all agree? Here is my attempt at doing that: At least in part, to love America means to love the idea of democracy. My guess is that few Americans, no matter where you live or what shaped you, would disagree with this. We have never been more united than when resisting tyranny, whether it be in the form of World War II Nazis or Cold War Communists. Indeed, it was the hunger for the democratic ideal that inspired tens of thousands of colonists to pick up muskets, endure brutal and exposed winters, and die on a battlefield without ever getting to enjoy the outcome of their fight.
To me, this suggests that loving America is much more complex than loving a flag with 50 stars and 13 stripes. The flag is a symbol for something deeper. It is a symbol for a choice we have all made that as we grow together, our society needs some degree of organization and protection and that we should all have a voice in deciding how that organization and protection unfolds.
But like all living things, democracy needs nourishment. And the one nutrient that democracy absolutely needs for its survival is the information that its participants use to make thoughtful decisions about how to organize and protect themselves. If democracy is to be healthy, the information that is fed to its participants must be healthy. We simply cannot have a marketplace of ideas if we can’t trust the foundations upon which the ideas are sold to us.
Of course, the information that we use to make decisions as democratic participants is never going to be perfect. All leaders, journalists, and political factions are going to get things wrong at times because the world is complicated and humans are imperfect. But this should never be an excuse to relax our standards for the information we consume and share. While we can never achieve the perfect ideal of truth, we can and should strive in good faith to be honest about our facts and reflect reality as authentically as we know it to be. Indeed, it is impossible to have a democracy without making this effort. Democracy dies if our truth dies. There is no debate here. Democracy and truth are too intertwined to argue that one can live without the other.
So loving America means that we—citizens, journalists, and elected leaders—examine and vet the information we share, in the same way that parents carefully vet the content that reaches the eyes of their children. In a very real way, to love America means to live as though the pursuit of truth is something sacred.