Is It Possible To Be Patriotic In The Era Of Trump?

Is it possible, or even appropriate, to express pride in a country that is being led by a President who stands against everything this country stands for?

With President Trump set to headline his own 4th of July celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, which many observers fear will turn into an opportunity for partisan mudslinging rather than a celebration of American freedom, The Washington Post’s Philip Bump notes that we have come to the point where what passes for patriotism depends very much on your political affiliation:

Recent polling has looked at how Americans view patriotism and national pride. Often, there’s a gulf in perceptions between Democrats and Republicans, including on what sorts of actions constitute a forfeiture of the ability to identify as a patriot and on views of the parties themselves.

On Tuesday, for example, Gallup released survey data looking at the extent to which respondents said they were proud to be Americans. The percentage saying they were “very” or “extremely” proud to be American is at its lowest point since Gallup first asked the question in 2001. As many people say they were very or extremely proud to be an American today as said they were extremely proud 16 years ago.

Democrats have driven this drop: The percentage of Democrats saying they’re extremely proud to be American has sunk from 56 percent in 2013 to 22 percent this year. There was a drop among independents as well over that period, from 50 to 41 percent. Among Republicans, though, pride has risen since 2015, from 68 to 76 percent. The Trump effect.

The 54-point spread between the parties among those who say they’re extremely proud to be American is the widest on record.

Pride isn’t necessarily patriotism, but there’s clearly some overlap.

Republicans, new Economist-YouGov polling tells us, are much more likely to see themselves as the more patriotic political party. While about 6 in 10 Democrats say their party is more patriotic, 8 in 10 Republicans say the same about the GOP. Democrats are 20 points more likely than Republicans to say both parties are about equally patriotic.

That Economist-YouGov poll also asked about how specific actions a person could take might affect respondents’ views of their patriotism.
So, for example, about half of respondents thought you could disobey a law you found immoral and still be considered patriotic. Slightly fewer said the same of refusing to serve in a war you thought was immoral, and slightly fewer still said you could be patriotic even if you criticized American leaders to foreigners.

In each case, Democrats were significantly more likely to say the person taking such actions could still be considered a patriot. On refusal to serve in a war, Democrats were 37 percentage points more likely to say that doing so wouldn’t preclude someone from being considered a patriot.

The idea that there are different ideas of what it means to be patriotic that vary depending on one’s political party. is not a new one and is largely made apparent by our two major political parties.

For Republicans, the idea of “my country right or wrong” and “love it or leave it” have been part of conservative political discourse since the Vietnam War era at least, and was most openly exploited by the Nixon Administration during its confrontations with protesters over the Vietnam War and other policies. It is a sentiment most aptly personified, in a satirical way, by Archie Bunker in All In The Family. This is the sentiment we see when the crowds at Trump rallies change “USA! USA!” and then switch on a dime to “Lock her up!” or cheers at the President’s latest attack on the free press, which ironically is one of the great guardians of liberty albeit sometimes an imperfect one.

For Democrats, it seems to this outside observer that patriotism has been somewhat of a more sensitive and difficult issue. For a long time, it seemed as though Democrats were explicitly shying away from displays of patriotism at party events due to the fact that many of the themes of the idea had been hijacked by Republicans. Additionally, there are clearly certain segments of the Democratic Party for whom patriotism itself seems to be anathema because it is allegedly covering up past sins committed by Americans toward African-Americans and Native Americans. While those things most certainly shouldn’t be forgotten, the idea that we ought to reject the symbols of our founding, such as the Betsy Ross Flag, because of that past is an idea that arguably looks to ordinary Americans as being a rejection of the idea of America itself.

More recently, Democrats seem to be rediscovering patriotism or at least no longer willing to let Republicans and conservatives define what it is. That being said, there’s definitely a difference between what Democrats and the left consider patriotic and what Republicans and the right consider patriotic. There’s more room, for example, for dissent against authority in the Democratic definition of patriotism than there is among Republicans, although this seems to vary somewhat depending on which party controls the levers of government. Additionally, Democrats are largely less likely to see audacious displays of military power as being a necessary part of patriotism. In that respect, I suppose my own views of patriotism are closer to the Democratic definition than the Republican cult of patriotism best epitomized by pictures of the current President bizarrely hugging the flag.

In addition to these differences, the Trump Era seems to have created a divide on patriotism and optimism about the nation’s future that applies to everyone except Republican. I noted this in a post last year at this time, and that pessimism only seems to be becoming more apparent the deeper we get into the Trump Era. Last year, for example, surveys conducted by Gallup and other organizations showed that national pride had hit a new low. Those numbers have only gotten worse:

WASHINGTON, D.C. — As Americans prepare to celebrate the Fourth of July holiday, their pride in the U.S. has hit its lowest point since Gallup’s first measurement in 2001. While 70% of U.S. adults overall say they are proud to be Americans, this includes fewer than half (45%) who are “extremely” proud, marking the second consecutive year that this reading is below the majority level. Democrats continue to lag far behind Republicans in expressing extreme pride in the U.S.

These findings are explored further with new measurements of the public’s pride in eight aspects of U.S. government and society. American scientific achievements, military and culture/arts engender the most pride, while the U.S. political system and health and welfare system garner the least.

U.S. adults’ extreme pride in being American has been steadily weakening in recent years, and the current reading, from a June 3-16 Gallup poll, marks the lowest point to date. However, the latest two-percentage-point decline from last year’s 47% is not a statistically significant change.

The highest readings on the measure, 69% and 70%, were between 2002 and 2004, after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when the American public expressed high levels of patriotism and rallied around the U.S. government. Yet, since the start of George W. Bush’s second presidential term in 2005, fewer than 60% of Americans have expressed extreme pride in being American.

Record-low American patriotism is the latest casualty of the sharply polarized political climate in the U.S. today. For the second time in 19 years, fewer than half of U.S. adults say they are extremely proud to be Americans. The decline reflects plummeting pride among Democrats since Trump took office, even as Republican pride has edged higher.

While neither party group feels proud of the U.S. political system, politics may be affecting Democrats’ overall sense of pride in their country more than Republicans’, given Democrats’ low approval of the president. Democrats’ awareness of Trump’s historically low presidential approval rating across the international community may also be a factor in this latest decline in patriotism. So too could be Gallup data from earlier this year, which found that just 31% of Americans (including 2% of Democrats) think foreign leaders have respect for Trump.

Absent a significant national event that might rally all Americans around the flag, given Democrats’ entrenched views of the president, these historically low readings on American pride are likely to continue until Trump is no longer in office.

This decline in the number of people expressing national pride can be attributed to the current state of American politics and the extent to which two and a half years of the Trump Administration has worn away at public faith in political institutions and helped to bring some rather distasteful things out in the open.

The most blatant example of that, of course, is the fact that the racism and xenophobia that Trump has tapped into since the start of his campaign more than three years ago has come into the mainstream by the President’s rhetoric and the rhetoric of his supporters. This can best be seen in the fact that, over these past three years, we have seen plenty of examples of the extent to which this President has seemingly resurrected the worse aspects of American politics. These include everything from  Charlottesville to the positive comments about Trump from former KKK Grand Dragon David Duke that it took Trump far too long to disavow to Trump’s own campaign rallies, the signs that hate and racism have been normalized, at least among the small group of people who are in tune with those beliefs are plain and evident. Finally, several civil rights organizations, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism and the Southern Poverty Law Center. have reported that the number of reported hate crimes has increased measurably since Trump took the oath of office on January 20, 2017.

More recently, the Administration has adopted policies that have created a humanitarian crisis on the southern border that it is now attempting to use to clamp down even further on immigration, one of the things that has made America unique among the nations of the world. The past month alone, for example, has seen reports too numerous to mention of the appalling conditions under which women and children seeking asylum as permitted by American law are being held, in violation of existing law and international treaties to which the United States is a signatory. Rather than seeking to fix those conditions, the President and his supporters in Congress are simultaneously denying that the conditions are as bad as the evidence shows they are and using those conditions as proof of their argument that a “crisis” on the border exists which requires the construction of an absurd wall that won’t accomplish anything.

On the international stage, the President continues to embarrass the country on a regular basis, and arguably to place it in a dangerous position thanks to policies that run counter to everything that has been at the center of American foreign policy since the end of World War Two. On a regular basis, he has alienated the nation’s most important allies while behaving obsequiously toward dictators such as Kim Jong Un, Xi Jinping, the Saud Family, and, of course, Vladimir Putin. Economically, he has spent the better part of the past two years sending the nation down an uncharted course with a trade war that has set us at odds not only with nation’s such as China but also with some of our most important allies. In the process, he has casually tossed grenades into important international alliances such as the G-7 and NATO and, as I’ve noted — see hereherehere, and here  — driven a wedge between the United States and its most important allies. More importantly, his repudiation of international agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Paris Climate Accords, and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action have demonstrated that, under Trump the United States simply cannot be trusted to keep its agreements or to be the force for international stability it has been since the end of World War II. All of this leaves one to wonder what kind of damage he’ll do to the standing of the United States in the world before he leaves office.

Given all of this, I suppose it’s not surprising that many Americans aren’t feeling particularly patriotic at this point. It’s worth noting, though, that the United States of America is more than Donald Trump. For the most part, our institutions are holding up fairly well notwithstanding the efforts of this President to flout Constitutional norms, and possibly even the law. While Congress is demonstrably failing in its duty to act as a check against a President like Donald Trump, we still have the ability, through elections, to change that as voters did last November. Additionally, the Courts have proven to be a strong bulwark against the Presidents efforts to remake the nation in his image, as we’ve seen in legal rulings dealing with the Muslim Travel Ban, DACA, the effort to undo the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, the efforts to deny rights to LGBT Americans, and the efforts to punish so-called “sanctuary cities.” While the wheels do grind slowly and success is not guaranteed, there is at least some hope that we’ll survive Donald Trump just as we’ve survived other challenges.

On the day President Trump was inaugurated, during which he delivered one of the darkest and most divisive Inaugural Addresses in our history, I said this:

Our nation has faced many challenges over the past 228 years, including a war that divided the nation and threatened to destroy it even before it turned one hundred years old. It has faced dangers from overseas, including a war that was fought on two fronts and involved millions of deaths and casualties, and a quieter Cold War that threatened to unleash forces of destruction capable of making the planet essentially uninhabitable for hundreds of years. It has endured scandals and corruption in all three branches of government, racial, ethnic, and gender-based prejudice, and political polarization that was, as hard as it might be to believe, even worse than what we are dealing today. It has faced economic downturns that forced millions of people out of work and into seeming hopelessness, natural disasters, and political assassinations. Through it all the nation has survived, and it will survive Donald John Trump no matter how long he ends up serving as President of the United States.

None of this is to say that we shouldn’t stand up and speak out when the new President does something we disagree with, of course. As Thomas Jefferson put it, “eternal vigilance is the price of liberty,” and that means it is the responsibility of each of us to speak out and to act within the system when our leaders are headed down the wrong path. I fully expect that I will be critical of President Trump far more than I will be accepting of the policies he will advocate in the coming years. Of course, that was true of the man who just left the Presidency and the man before him as well, so that’s hardly a change. At the same time, though, I’m going to try to remember that America will survive this just as it survived everything else we’ve faced over the past two centuries. The damage that is done, though, will depend largely on how vigilant men and women of conscience on both sides of the aisle are and whether they’re willing to speak out when necessary. Donald Trump is our President, words that still astound me even as I type them, but he isn’t our King and he isn’t President for life. So remain vigilant, and try not to be too melodramatic about the future no matter how tempting it might be.

Despite the manner in which things have unfolded since Inauguration Day, I still believe this to be the case. Admittedly, I find myself far more pessimistic and frustrated with the state of the nation than I was a year ago or in January 2017. It’s hard to be optimistic when we have a President attacking norms and principles such as the rule of law and freedom of the press and a Republican Party that has become so sycophantic that it is unwilling to speak out against scoundrels. Meanwhile, Democrats seem to be intent on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory by listening to the siren song of a far-left extreme that doesn’t represent where most of America is on so many issues. Thus, the idea of a second Trump term and everything that could mean cannot be dismissed. In the end, though, Trump and those who support can only win if the American people let them, and I remain hopeful that the American people will end up doing the right thing even if it takes them a while to figure out what that is.

FILED UNDER: Donald Trump, Politicians, Society, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020.

Comments

  1. CSK says:

    To paraphrase Michelle Obama, for the first time in my adult life I’m embarrassed to be an American.

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  2. michael reynolds says:

    What is a country? Its people? 46% of voters chose to turn the country over to a corrupt, ignorant, racist, treasonous rapist. Am I supposed to identify with those people? Why? How? Should a German in 1939 love his country? Mein Vaterland richtig oder falsch?

    Am I meant to love the institutions? Congress and the Executive branch are busily subverting the essential institution, the Constitution.

    Is it the history? I have a choice there, should I be proud of the child’s version of history that’s all most Americans ever learn? Or should I be proud of the reality of US history which, when not bowdlerized looks an awful lot like the history of slave-owners murdering Indians to steal their land, then going on to buy stolen land from Napoleon, and then stealing still more stolen land from the Mexicans?

    Or does it come down to something nice and vague, like ‘the American way of life?’ The lifestyle where people work full time and still end up sleeping under a bridge? The way of life that means American wealth is held by a few dozen people?

    Someone tell me what I should be proud of and I’ll see how proud I feel. Because I think most of that ‘extremely proud’ number is self-regard and ignorant contempt for anyone who is ‘not us.’

    12
  3. MarkedMan says:

    Is it possible to be a proud and patriotic American with Trump as president and the Republicans in control of the Senate? Of course! America is founded on principals, and it is those principals that we honor and aspire too. The fact that Trump is in the White House and Mitch McConnell in the Senate just gives us a clear target for promoting those principals. In one sense, they have made it easier to be patriotic, as right and wrong have become crystal clear.

    And now I will do my patriotic duty of drinking beer and eating hot dogs….

    5
  4. SenyorDave says:

    I read something yesterday about the concentration camps/ cages/ detention camps that exist in the United States of America at the current time, which today happens to be the day where we celebrate our independence. The author said that one way to judge a country is how we treat the most vulnerable. Think about it, we are caging children! This is not accidental. The cruelty is the goal.
    If you could excuse every other excess of Trump and the modern Republican party, this should be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Assuming that the Democrats don’t nominate a complete lunatic, a person who cares about this country should feel compelled to vote for the Democrat, if for no other reason than to send the message that this America and we don’t do that here. And the entire Republican party has to share the blame. The leaders for enabling the policy, and the voter for continuing to support the leaders.
    I firmly believe that it is possible to be patriotic and have strong attachment to our country, even in the age of Trump.

    8
  5. Gustopher says:

    Is It Possible To Be Patriotic In The Era Of Trump?

    Yes, go protest. There is nothing more patriotic. It’s a very visible act that you love your country, and that what’s happening now is unacceptable.

    Fly your flag, because you love your country. But fly it upside down because your country is in distress.

    (The French can’t fly their flag upside down, it would look the same. Never thought of that before.)

    6
  6. SKI says:

    One can love their country and still acknowledge that it is wrong.

    We should indeed be ashamed that we are led by such miserable excrement and that such a high percentage, albeit a minority, support him.

    The bigger difference is that one party continues to use faux-patriotism as a political cudgel claiming that opposition to a decision or action of our leaders is akin to opposition to the country. To that, I can only quote from one of our founding fathers: “Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.”

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  7. CSK says:

    @SKI: Actually, it was Samuel Johnson who said that.

    3
  8. SKI says:

    @CSK: Crap. I knew that. In 1775. Just transported him across the Atlantic. Argh.

  9. gVOR08 says:

    @Gustopher: The Brits can fly the Union Jack upside down. But no one will notice.

  10. Stormy Dragon says:

    “‘My country, right or wrong,’ is a thing that no patriot would think of saying except in a desperate case. It is like saying, ‘My mother, drunk or sober.’ No doubt if a decent man’s mother took to drink he would share her troubles to the last; but to talk as if he would be in a state of gay indifference as to whether his mother took to drink or not is certainly not the language of men who know the great mystery.” — G. K. Chesterton

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  11. Stormy Dragon says:

    I remember many years ago, a year or two after 9/11, seeing a car with one of those red, white, and blue ribbon magnets on the back, but if you looked closely, the text on the ribbon said. “My car is more patriotic than your car.”

    That’s kind of how I see patriotism. Tes, you can still be a patriot, but it has nothing to do with the more performative things that pass for “patriotism” in mass culture.

    5
  12. al Ameda says:

    This country is obsessed with ‘patriotism.’ How you answer the question ‘Are you patriotic, are you a patriot? is a loyalty test to many people.

    So, am I patriotic?
    Well, some times I am, sometimes I’m not, most of the time I do not think about patriotism.

    I’m an American, I understand our history, our evolving culture, and our place in the world. I’m not always in support of what we do collectively as Americans, nor am I predictably or inalterably opposed to what we do domestically or in foreign affairs.

    I understand that to about 46% of Americans how I feel about patriotism, how I view it, is evidence that I’m not a patriot. So be it. I can live with that.

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  13. CSK says:

    @al Ameda: A billion upvotes on your comment.

    1
  14. Kathy says:

    @michael reynolds:

    What is a country? Its people?

    Since we were talking also about MAD in another thread, there was a feature once, by Al Jaffee as I recall, defining various types of people. One was “The Patriot.” It went on to list what groups he doesn’t like, like immigrants, feminists, protesters, reporters, etc., and concludes “The Patriot loves his country, and hates 98% of its people.”

    3
  15. steve says:

    We should be patriotic in spite of Trump. The country has its faults like every other country, but it is still pretty wonderful. Trump will eventually go away.

    Slightly OT but one of my current pet peeves is hearing partisans on either side claim that they love the country, though this is worse on the right. They dont really love the country, they just love those who voted the same way they did. They hate the other half.

    Steve

    4
  16. Moosebreath says:

    This piece by Franklin Foer in The Atlantic takes his cues on patriotism from the US Women’s Soccer Team. Its conclusion:

    “That this team has stirred so much affection, and garnered such high TV ratings, is a testament to how cosmopolitanism has taken hold in a broad swath of the country. These players are a reminder of how, in the depths of a dark political era, it’s possible to love one’s country; they are an object lesson in how the values of liberal America can be patriotically trumpeted.

    When Trump indulges in his self-aggrandizing celebration this week, I’m going to choose to think about Megan Rapinoe, with her arms defiantly spread in the air. I’m going to think about how the nation can still garner the world’s admiration, and how an idealistic vision of national community remains undefeated.”

    2
  17. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Has anyone seen coverage of the Prez’s little Parteitag in Washington today? I just got in from 9 days on the road and have no interest in turning the tube on.

  18. Joe says:

    @Kathy:

    I love mankind; it’s people I can’t stand.

    – Linus van Pelt

    2
  19. Kathy says:

    @Joe:

    I remember that strip. Lucy tells Linus he can’t be a humanitarian because he doesn’t love mankind, or words to that effect.

    1
  20. An Interested Party says:

    This country is obsessed with ‘patriotism.’

    Perhaps that’s tied to our country’s collective inferiority complex…

    @Joe:

    Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “The world is a fine place and worth fighting for.” I agree with the second part.

    — William Somerset (Se7en)

    1
  21. Teve says:

    @Moosebreath: if you haven’t read that piece about Rapinoe by Sue Bird that Jen linked to here, look it up, it’s pretty bangin’.

  22. Teve says:

    Twitter is saying the military flyover has been canceled due to weather. Yahweh now suspected member of Deep State.

    6
  23. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Meh. If one’s idea of patriotism is standing on a bridge and waving the flag as cars pass under you, well that’s pretty cheap. True patriotism is working towards “a more perfect union.” Everybody has their own ideas about what makes for a more perfect Union so I will not cast aspersions on anyone’s politics here, but I will say this: If everything one does is all about “me me me me me me”, they aren’t a patriot.

    4
  24. grumpy realist says:

    It’s really easy to yell “patriotism!” and wave a flag around (probably manufactured in China.)

    Actually working to make the United States a better country, making sure that it lives up to the ideals it claims it was founded on? ….that’s a little harder.

    4
  25. gVOR08 says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    Prez’s little Parteitag in Washington

    The Triumph of the Shill.

    1
  26. EddieInCA says:

    I’m with Michael Reynolds on this one….

    WTF does it even mean to be patriotic? I’ve made the point repeatedly that I have more in common with an Architect from Madrid than most of my countrymen from Alabama or Arkansas. I have more in common with a banker from Switzerland than a truck driver from West Virginia. I have lived in six countries. I have visited 48 countries. I own a home in Mexico. I have seen the world and there are better places than the USA. Hell, if I could handle the cold, I’d live in Sweden. Does that make me unpatriotic? I see Switzerland’s citizenship model much more positively than ours.

    Our resident libertarian complains about the excesses of plans by Warren or Sanders, yet isn’t bothered by the reckless spending by the GOP, which has VASTLY outspent Dems over the past 40 years. Is HE patriotic?

    What does it even mean? I’m a huge fan of what this country thinks it is. I’m less of a fan of what it really is.

    This is a country that had slaves until 1865, then created a whole other set of laws that I call “slavery – adjacent” that lasted for over 100 years. We still have institutional racism that guys like Dr. Joyner and Dr. Taylor are at least aware of now, which previously they weren’t. Yet, to big segments of the population, there is no racial problems in this country.

    This is a country that literally exterminated native people to take their land. And those not exterminated were moved to places where you can’t grow food, don’t have natural water supplies, and where no jobs existed. But it’s their fault for not pulling themselves up by the bootstraps.

    This a country that put American citizens of Japanese descent into concentrat… – er… Internment camps during WWII. American Citizens. Don’t f**king tell me it can’t happen again.

    This is a country that has put, literally, kids in cages. This is a country that INTENTIONALLY separated kids from their families or guardians, and, in some cases, with no way of getting them back together again.

    So when you ask “Is it possible?”, I have no idea what you’re asking.

    7
  27. EddieInCA says:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wTjMqda19wk

    This is the most patriotic speech ever.

  28. Guarneri says:

    The malcontents always give me a laugh.

    Carry on.

    1
  29. Ken_L says:

    Patriotism is an essentially irrational emotion, the legacy of the territorial tribalism in our genes. If they could talk, I’m sure my dogs would tell us how much they love their yard, which they would die to protect because it’s much better than any other dog’s yard.

    I’m happy to be Australian. I’d support whatever was necessary to protect Australia’s interests. But I don’t think Australia is better than other countries in terms of ‘values’ or ‘national character’ (or worse, for that matter). Americans often make me uneasy because they seem to believe the US is morally superior to the rest of the world, which is simply not supported by evidence.

    Obama understood this. It’s one of the reasons right-wingers hate him.

    7
  30. EddieInCA says:

    @Ken_L:

    Americans often make me uneasy because they seem to believe the US is morally superior to the rest of the world, which is simply not supported by evidence.

    Obama understood this. It’s one of the reasons right-wingers hate him.

    This. I think the more you travel internationally, the more you feel this way. Sad that so many Americans never travel outside the USA.

    6
  31. Stormy Dragon says:

    @Teve:

    You joke, but the “the US government has weather control machines”-conspiracy part of the QAnon community is actually blaming the weather on the deep state for real.

    1
  32. Teve says:

    @Stormy Dragon: all those Q Anon arrests of top DemonCrap pedophiles are sooooo imminent!!! 🙂

  33. Moosebreath says:

    @Ken_L:

    “Patriotism is an essentially irrational emotion, the legacy of the territorial tribalism in our genes.”

    I think it was Shaw who said that Patriotism is the belief that one country is better than all the others because the speaker was born there.

    1