The saying "Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel" is as false as it is insultingly glib. Like most "sayings," there is an underlying inference that somehow just uttering the words makes it true. For example, we say, "There is no place like home," and everyone accepts that quaint aphorism as true on its face, unless, of course, home happens to be an unpleasant place. Equating patriotism to scoundrels, therefore, does injustice to the terms patriotism and scoundrel.
There have, of course, been scoundrels who have hidden behind patriotism to justify acts of political persecution or to vilify others by calling opponents unpatriotic. There have been periods in American history where xenophobia and jingoism have been incorporated into a false notion of patriotic fervor. These periods - the anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant "Know-Nothing" movement of the 19th century, for example - have always given true patriotism a black eye and true scoundrels have run towards, but could never hide within the confines of patriotism for long.
Patriotism is not the last refuge of the scoundrel. Patriotism is what it is: love for or devotion to one's country. For Americans that devotion must be to our Constitution, its Bill of Rights and a tradition for protecting the rights of everyone. The true test of a patriot is tolerance of thoughts, words and deeds of those whose behavior seems both lacking in love and devotion for our great country. That toleration does not come easy to a true patriot, because those few who insult or condemn America tend to elicit anger and labels of "traitor" or "ingrate" from the many. The act of tolerance towards those few and the protection of their rights to continue behaving that way is the true measure of patriotic devotion to freedom that separates the patriot from the scoundrel.
There have been famous scoundrels who have done terrible things in the name of patriotism, but patriotism was not their last refuge. People like Adolf Hitler brought destruction and ruination to their countries in a misguided notion of superiority and national destiny. More of a product of his time than a great leader, Hitler's patriotism was not his last refuge; it was his false first refuge. (Ironically, Hitler was not even German. He was born in Austria.) Hitler's last refuge was in a bunker in Berlin. His last act was a suicide that accompanied the death of the country he claimed to love.
Speaking of love of country, a clear distinction should be made between patriotism and exercise of free speech. Disloyal statements made by prominent Americans, especially in front of foreign audiences, are not the patriotic acts that some have rationalized them to be. Spirited and partisan statements about our country's leadership are appropriate in the heated political discourse surrounding our internal electoral process. When spirited becomes mean-spirited and when such statements are done outside the confines of our country, such statements are simply unloving, ill-advised and disloyal. While such behavior is not traitorous, it is certainly not patriotic. So, while patriotism is no refuge for scoundrels, it is likewise no refuge for disloyalty.
In the end, scoundrels on either side of the political spectrum may seek the false refuge of patriotism. Real patriotism, however, is not a refuge; nor does it impute any special immunities or benefits to those who have it - other than a responsibility to exercise it responsibly and honorably. Scoundrels, on the other hand, do not behave honorably; nor are they entitled to the refuge of patriotism.