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What a Time to Be American

It is just as well that the United States didn’t send a team to the World Cup, because it’s been incredibly hard this summer to cheer on America in the international sphere.

I’m not the only one feeling dejected. A July Gallup poll revealed that just 47 percent of Americans were “extremely proud” to be American—the lowest percentage recorded in the 17 years that this question has been asked.

However, Republicans are generally prouder than Democrats, and this year the gap widened to 74 percent of Republicans being “extremely proud,” compared to just 32 percent of Democrats. Right-wing political analysis of the situation often portrays dissatisfied left-wingers as unpatriotic and shortsighted. One conservative columnist lamented, “Democrat pride hinges on politics while Republican pride transcends circumstance.”

It is immature not to be proud of America just because one doesn’t support the current president. The greatest things about America were fostered long before our current political parties came into existence. As the national anthem, written in 1814, declares, America is the “land of the free.” As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote in 1862, “America is another word for Opportunity.” Individual freedoms and opportunity remain two of the ideals that Americans believe make this country stand out. The patriotism inspired by these ideals should transcend party politics.

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Unfortunately, the most demoralizing stories of this summer, the ones that most damage the American reputation, aren’t political either. There are no sides to take on separating families at the border and detaining children. There are no sides to take between America, our own country, and Russia. The worry that the American government’s actions this summer are devaluing what it means to be American does transcend politics, because the issues at hand should be too basic to be politicized.

I would think that being a proud American means believing in and championing freedom, dignity, and decency. As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote in 1962, “True patriotism springs from a belief in the dignity of the individual, freedom, and equality not only for Americans but for all people on earth.” Ronald Reagan said in 1985 that one of the principles that makes America great is “compassion for the others.”

But those ideals are dealt a blow when America forcibly separates families and detains children at the border. When, in a startling display of ineptitude and cold-heartedness, the government still can’t find many of the parents to reunite. This isn’t a debate about immigration policies, like the legal standards of asylum or the number of refugees that should be accepted. This is a horrifying turn of events that I would be aghast to see this perpetrated in other countries. But this is now happening in America, and America is a worse place for it.

But set aside even this moral issue. At the very least, I would think that being a proud American of any political background means defending America. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, the definition of a “patriot” is someone who “vigorously supports their country and is prepared to defend it against enemies or detractors.” Or, in more self-centered terms that might appeal more directly to our president: As President Calvin Coolidge said, patriotism means “looking out for yourself by looking out for your country.”

Yet bewilderingly, it feels like President Donald Trump is rooting and even playing for a different team. Though his campaign slogan was “America First,” his words belie a “Russia First” mentality. Over the word of the American intelligence community, at the July 16 Helsinki summit, Trump essentially accepted Vladimir Putin’s denial of Russian interference in American elections. His excuse, that he was confused by a double negative, and his response of “no” to whether Russia is still interfering, do not inspire more confidence in his desire to defend America’s interests. Leaving our elections vulnerable means leaving vulnerable America’s legacy and claim to be leader of the free world.

So of course it is a shame that so many people are not as proud to be American as they once were. It would be a shame too if this decrease was completely explained by partisanship and the inability to celebrate those on the other side of the political aisle. But I don’t think it is. Right-wing oversimplifications of this decrease are obscuring the alarmingly rapid erosion of America’s standing in the world and the deviation from the ideals put forth by great American historical figures.

Nevertheless, though I can’t say I’m “extremely proud,” I’m far from “not at all proud” of being American. I take solace in the fact that there are still so many people in our nation who make me proud to be an American. I’d like to think that this isn’t partisan — for example, those who serve in the military and those who kneel at the anthem are both inspiring. Ultimately, reversing this downturn of patriotism is not a spectator sport. If those at the top are damaging this country’s good name, it is the other Americans that will have to make up the difference.

Michelle I. Gao ’21, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House. Her column appears on alternate Thursdays.

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