In this hedonistic ‘Me generation’, Americans are folding up the proverbial flag and checking their patriotic impulses at the door of their diverse agendas. Does the US require a constant enemy to keep patriotism alive?
Climbing down from their historic post-9/11 exuberance, when a bumper-sticker patriotism adorned every Ford and Chevy from sea to shining sea, Americans are now reporting mixed feelings for Old Glory.
According to the results of a Wall Street Journal/NBC News survey, just 61 percent of Americans cited patriotism as ‘very important’, down 9 precipitous points from 1998. Although disenchanted Americans probably won’t be pledging allegiance to the Canadian flag any time soon, the new statistics are sufficiently alarming when viewed through the lens of different age groups.
Among Baby Boomers conceived in the euphoric mood of the post-World War II era (1946-64), 80 percent said patriotism is very important to them. Meanwhile, on the other side of the generational divide, patriotic sentiment does a spectacular belly flop. Just 42 percent of young Americans between the ages of 18 and 38 said patriotism is important. Among Generation X-ers (ages 39-54), the number climbs to 65 percent.
A correlation is evident between high rates of patriotism and those periods when America was ‘fighting the good fight’ against some foreign bogeyman. Unsurprisingly, 9/11 provides the best example. Following upon the single deadliest terrorist attack in history, patriotic fervor exploded. Shaken to their core by the televised catastrophe, young men and women enlisted for military service to help mete out justice against Osama bin Laden in what was hyped as the ‘War on Terror’. Few Americans at the time questioned the “if you aren’t with us you’re against us” mindset for invading innocent countries like Iraq, for example, and a string of other sovereign states that eventually fell under the boot of American hyper-power.
With time, however, many people understood they were being taken for a ride, as the War on Terror was exposed as an opportunistic excuse for carrying out ‘regime change’ operations around the world. At this point in their history, Americans entered into a complicated relationship with patriotism. They could understand firsthand what political historian Alan Ryan had in mind when he warned, “patriotism has a tendency to get people killed.”
Apart from senseless military adventurism, there are myriad other ways to explain America’s apparent fall from patriotic grace. After all, how can a nation, perched on the very precipice of civil war, expect to have an inordinate amount of patriotic passion? Indeed, ever since the rise of the populist Donald Trump, the country has become polarized to the point of schizophrenia. Liberals and conservatives are so divided in their political beliefs that dialogue between them has become impossible and even dangerous, as witnessed on increasingly intolerant college campuses, of all places.
Meanwhile, the liberal media – which is to say THE media, given its remarkable level of concentrated control – is no longer an unbiased purveyor of news and information. The very same thing could be said about Silicon-shackled social media. The majority of ink, once spilled against perceived foreign enemies of the United States, is now used to trash the American president every single day. Regardless of one’s opinions of Trump, such an approach to journalism and politics must eventually take a heavy toll on the national consciousness – not to mention patriotism.
At the same time, America’s wicked new cocktail of political correctness mixed with a volatile ‘woke’ culture is responsible for driving out national traditions that were once considered sacred and untouchable. Like the national anthem. In mid-2016, NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick began kneeling during the traditional singing of the Star Spangled Banner before games to protest against police abuse and perceived racism. Eventually his one-man performance caught fire as some 200 other football players elsewhere in the league followed suit. And just this month, at the Pan American Games in Peru, two American medalists made similar gestures of protest during the playing of the national anthem in full view of the American flag. Needless to say, those sorts of actions do no favors for patriotism, especially among young Americans watching the spectacles at home.
When so much of the country is divided over Donald Trump, much of this outrageous behavior could be excused as politically driven. Take for example the question of immigration and border control, the hot-button issue that got Trump sent to Washington in the first place. Today, Americans – descendants from the most racially diverse people in the world – are being branded chauvinistic bigots because they think it just might be a good idea, you know, in an age of terrorism, to have would-be migrants and asylum seekers line up at a designated port of entry, exactly as their ancestors were required to do many years ago. This standoff has led to an incredible situation in which one half of the American house is accusing the other half of being racist. Undoubtedly, such unprecedented perceptions must certainly have a negative effect on patriotic sentiment.
Or is the real culprit for patriotic decline a growing disillusionment with the so-called American Dream? At a time when US college graduates are struggling to repay exorbitant tuition loans while American CEOs are earning on average 287 times more than the average worker, what should we really expect? Meanwhile, behemoth US corporations, like Amazon, are not even forced to pay their taxes each year. Compare that smug arrogance to the millions of Americans who feel like they are trapped on a hamster wheel, surviving from paycheck to paycheck, never knowing when they may slip through the gaping cracks of the system.
Finally, it cannot be denied that many Americans are simply content to take everything for granted. They see no great threat on the horizon to disrupt their joyride, so the entire notion of patriotism seems senseless, a bit like dragging along a fur coat to a beach holiday. They live in direct contradiction to JFK’s famous plea: “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”
For these fair-weather Americans, who shun sacrifice when times are good, patriotism amounts to a bumper sticker they duly slap on their vehicles in times of trouble. Should the number of these ‘patriots’ ever exceed the truly patriotic Americans, then the United States may be heading for very serious problems down the road.
By Robert Bridge