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As a lifelong Army brat and a veteran myself, may I offer a thought on patriotism this Memorial Day?

I don’t mean the shameless fake patriotism of NFL owners, who care only about their bottom line, and even then clumsily make a wrongheaded mess of it.

Nor the strange, distorted mockery of “patriotism” espoused by John Kelly—whose service I honor and whose son paid the ultimate price—but whose twisted vision of militarist superiority-cum-victimhood I can’t abide (to say nothing of his wanton xenophobia and refusal to admit when he’s flat-out wrong).

Nor the patriotism-on-the-cheap of yellow ribbons and “thank you for your service” and “support the troops.”

And certainly not the transparently hypocritical, authoritarian-in-patriot’s-clothing demagoguery of a rich draft dodger who never served anyone other than himself a day in his life, yet now demands a military parade in his honor, threatens nuclear war, and presumes to decide who’s a “real American,” all the while conspiring with our enemies to further enrich himself and attacking the most fundamental American institutions, principles, and core beliefs—from the rule of law to a free press to equal justice for all to the military itself—thereby weakening our country in every way.

No. I’m talking about the genuine patriotism of citizens (and a goodly number of immigrant non-citizens) who gave their lives for the ideals that our country aims to represent. I’m talking about the patriotism of all those—in uniform and out—who even now, every day, are fighting to defend those ideals in the face of some of the most venal, corrupt, un-American, and truly unpatriotic leaders this country has ever seen.

True patriotism, of course, is not blind allegiance to one’s country—not, in George Jean Nathan’s memorable phrase, an arbitrary veneration of real estate over principles. It is certainly not willful complicity when our country is in the wrong, or when its course has been hijacked by illegitimate usurpers betraying everything it is supposed to stand for. (There’s a good reason why a dishonest appeal to patriotism is the last refuge of scoundrels.)

On this Memorial Day, we see genuine patriotism under siege more savagely than at any time since the days of McCarthy. So let’s remember what this country is supposed to stand for, and honor those who died for it, by standing up and fighting for it now.

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