Thursday, July 04, 2013

Are you proud?

My fellow Americans, regardless of what country you live in, do you feel proud of your homeland? This can be a vexed question for expats, but it’s always seemed to me it’s one that people within the USA ought to think about.

I’ve long thought that the idea of being proud of the country of one’s birth is a little peculiar, a bit like being proud of having a certain eye colour. None of us chooses the country of our birth, and we had nothing to do with its history before we were born. We also can’t be assigned any responsibility for anything that happens when we’re quite young. So, if we had nothing to do with choosing our homeland or making the country what it is up until we reach a certain age, do we have any right to feel pride about it?

Maybe most of us actually feel gratitude. In the West, we watch democracy sputter and fail in places like Egypt, and are glad we live in countries that value democracy, even if it’s sometimes imperfectly practiced. We may also be glad for the opportunities that open societies present to us, even if the ability to reach one’s potential isn’t equally distributed.

And yet, there really is something to the whole pride thing—a visceral feeling of connection, belonging and, yes, even love. There’s nothing wrong with that, of course, as long as it doesn’t lead to chauvinism or xenophobia. A healthy dose of humility keeps those more negative feelings in check.

What of expats? By definition, they live outside their native land, so can they be proud of a country they don’t live in? If home is where the heart is, then there’s no reason an expat can’t feel the same passion for “home” as does a person who’s never left. I’d argue that sometimes an expat may be more passionate, having something to compare their homeland to. And yet, many of us are part of the country we now live in—can we love two countries? Yes, I think we can, actually.

Gallup just released the latest in their annual polls on this topic and found that 85% of Americans classify themselves as “extremely or very proud” to be American. That number has changed very little since they began asking the question 12 years ago.

At the same time, 71% of Americans think the country’s founding fathers would be “disappointed” in the way America turned out, and only 27% think they’d be “pleased”. As Gallup notes, “This is most likely an outgrowth of Americans' current level of negativity toward their government.” Maybe this split—pride in country but lack of pride in government—is what makes the idea of being proud of America seem kind of odd.

As for me, I tend to look at the Fourth of July a bit like Thanksgiving—an opportunity to celebrate my American heritage and ancestry in a new country. Like Americans who live in the USA, I’m not proud of Congress, but unlike them, I’m not so sure that the founding fathers would be disappointed. The flawed system of federal government IS their design, after all, even if political parties have corrupted it. But the over-the-top flag waving, rockets red glare style of American patriotism? That was never me, even when I lived there.

To be anything other than an unquestioning cheerleader of America is seen by some—too many—as indicative of disloyalty. Of course, those same people have already written me off because I live in another country now, so it’s not like it really matters to them what I think or how I react.

Regardless, I celebrate the symbol that is America, the promise of democracy and liberty—but I can’t let go of its shortcomings and failures. For ANY other topic, this would be considered tempering emotion with realism, but when it comes to feelings about the US, well, it’s just never that simple, is it? And that’s the pity of it.

Still, it’s a holiday in the US, and a lot of people have a four-day weekend, apparently. I wonder how many of them have national pride as their paramount thought.

Happy Fourth of July to those who care about it, and maybe especially to those who don’t.


Rob1 said...

Having lived abroad for a year in my past, I understand the difference you mention for expats. While living in France and after returning home my feeling of patriotism is different. I feel I appreciate the positives while equally recognizing the opportunities of the USA.

As for the founding fathers, I think they would be more amazed at where the country has developed than disapointed. Now going further back, I think the pilgrims would be appalled by the efforts to have the government dictate religious beliefs as that was the environment theyleft.

rogerogreen said...

Hmm. If I were honest, sometimes I feel like Frederick Douglass in 1852, even now. Also, and I'm still musing on this, I wonder if the Jehovaj's Witnesses were correct about not saluting the flag, from a strictly Christian perspective.
At the same time, I am trying to be a vigorous citizen, keeping informed, voting ALL the time. So it's a mixed bag.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I hadn't thought of the Pilgrims, but you're probably right—unless it was THEIR religion being established, maybe. I think you're right, too, that the founding fathers would be amazed (for that matter, I think they'd like some things and dislike other things; it's only human).

It's interesting, isn't it, how spending time overseas changes perspectives? Of course, they say travel broadens the mind, so living overseas for any length of time would have to have change perspectives, I suppose.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

Yes, and I was pleased to see you posted an
excerpt from his speechon your blog. I don't think enough Americans know about it.

I don't have an opinion on the saluting the flag thing, since I'm not religious, but I do note that other countries don't do that and they seem to be just fine.

I think your last point is especially important: Being a "vigorous citizen," as you put it, is critical whatever we think of our country. It's the only way we can make things better—and not matter how good they may be at given time, they can always be better!