Thursday, July 04, 2013
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.