Independence Day is a time to celebrate our country, but with patriotic sentiment at perhaps an all-time low, this year’s holiday is also an opportunity for us to remember how excruciatingly lucky we are to be American citizens. With nothing but bad news filling our screens in recent months, love of country has become anything but an article of faith. When Gallup first started asking Americans how proud they were of their country months before the 9/11 attacks, 87 percent claimed to be “extremely” or “very” proud and only 2 percent said they were only “a little proud” or “not at all” proud. Gallup recently released this year’s American-pride poll, and the results are concerning to say the least: The extremely/very proud cohort has fallen to an all-time low of 63 percent, while the only a little proud/not all proud group has swelled from 12 percent to 21 percent in the last year.
The media seized on the poll to — you guessed it — blame President Trump. The Washington Post ran an opinion piece with the headline, “Trump Promised National Pride. A New Poll Proves He’s Delivered National Shame.” CNN ran an analysis piece under the headline, “Proud to be an American? Not so much anymore.” The common thread in these and other pieces was that they sounded more triumphal than sad, as though the decline in patriotic sentiment was good because it reflected poorly on Trump. President Trump has undoubtedly caused many Americans to feel less patriotic, but the truth is that patriotism has been waning for years.
Love of country shouldn’t be a partisan issue, but the Gallup poll revealed that 88 percent of Republicans said they were very or extremely proud to be American, compared to just 42 percent of Democrats. College graduates, people of color, and young people were the least proud to be American, according to the survey. In March 2017, 43 percent of respondents in their twenties said they were extremely proud to be American. Today, that figure stands at just 20 percent.
We tend to take our beautiful country for granted, focusing on its problems rather than its blessings, but millions of aspiring migrants around the world understand what a comparatively excellent place to live America is. In 2018, more than 23 million foreign nationals applied to take part in our green-card lottery. Every country has its problems, and we certainly have our fair share. Freedom of speech is under attack here like never before. Discrimination is still a problem. But these are issues that are by no means unique to us.
Mark Twain once defined patriotism as “supporting your country all the time and your government when it deserves it.” Americans have historically come together during times of crisis, but this isn’t happening now, in part because many on the left don’t subscribe to Twain’s maxim. Some are still so outraged that 62 million Americans voted for Donald Trump that they now view our country as an irredeemably tarnished place.
Those folks would do well to recognize that America is a lot bigger than the presidency. Elections matter, but presidents come and go; our country endures. As the 19th century House speaker and secretary of state James Blaine once said, “There is no ‘Republican,’ no ‘Democrat,’ on the Fourth of July — all are Americans. All feel that their country is greater than party.”
I never appreciated our country more than when I was serving it as a diplomat overseas. When you visit other countries, they’re novel and appealing in some ways. But the more time you spend, particularly in dysfunctional global hot spots, of which there are unfortunately many, the more you realize that our problems are comparatively quite manageable.
Don Parrish, a friend of mine from Illinois who is considered one of the world’s most-traveled people, is often asked to name his favorite country or place. His answer is always the same: There is no country like the United States. The more one travels, the more one appreciates one’s home.
As we prepare to celebrate America’s 244th birthday, those of us who remain proudly patriotic must redouble our efforts to convert friends, colleagues, and relatives who have grown disillusioned with our troubled-but-still-magisterial country. Because in the end, no nation can thrive if too many of its citizens no longer love it.