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Contempt for our country

Patriotism declines on both the left and the right

A rioter carries a U.S. flag upside down next to a burning building in Minneapolis on May 29, 2020. Associated Press/Photo/ by Julio Cortez

Contempt for our country
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Lee Greenwood may be proud to be an American, but the majority of American young people are not—and are saying so. A recent Gallup poll indicates a steep drop in patriotism for those who are in the 18-34 age bracket, hitting a record low. “Overall, 39% of U.S. adults say they are ‘extremely proud’ to be American in the most recent poll,” Sareen Habeshian summarized. “Meanwhile, only 18% of those aged 18-34 said the same, compared to 40% of those aged 35-54 and 50% of those 55 and over. By comparison, in 2013, 85% of those aged 18-29 said they were ‘extremely’ or ‘very’ proud to be an American.”

What’s going on here? While the morale of the U.S. citizenry has fluctuated over the years, this seems like a historic trend. And this trend speaks to the very odd moment of history in which we find ourselves.

We are witnessing a shift from gratitude to contempt. Just about every country in all of history has found some shared, unique goods to love. These goods were something to be proud of and around which to unite. Above all, they were cause for thanksgiving. A love for country was a way to love one’s neighbor. It stirred a citizen or subject to service and even sacrifice.

Can this love be blown out of proportion and disordered to become a sin? Yes. Does that negate the benefits and blessings of having a country? No. Are earthly kingdoms imperfect and bound to rise and fall? Yes. Does that mean the Christian is forbidden to love his nation, to exhibit the kind of grateful loyalty and pride that we call patriotism? Absolutely not.

In the case of the United States, we have a “goodly heritage.” While there is plenty of sin that mars our history, there is also much to praise in our past. And while we suffer many problems ranging from failed military adventurism to the disintegration of the family, we still have countless blessings to enjoy, foster, and protect—so much so that we take them for granted. Ironically, most people around the world would love to live in America while many of America’s own citizens walk around ashamed of it.

The populace has marinated in a stew of national self-loathing.

Why the contempt? It’s been cultivated. It is an ingratitude and naïve tunnel-vision that has been taught particularly in American public schools and popular media. These two powerful institutions have become engines of impiety and deconstruction. That the state schools cannot instill patriotism proves particularly galling, but it’s apparent that certain curricula, various personnel, and the overall culture of the public schools have failed to pass on a pride of country—of who we are and what we should be politically, morally, and spiritually. Other agendas have taken prominence. Now, the entertainment and educational systems alike fire a constant barrage of shame, scoffing, and cynicism at the American project. Their efforts have proven successful.

That’s too bad. We now find progressive politicians and military leaders wringing their hands over foreign enemies and lagging recruitment numbers. It turns out that loyal citizens resist betraying their homeland for the highest bidder and proudly volunteer for the armed forces. And yet, in America, a loyal citizenry is getting harder to find. The populace has marinated in a stew of national self-loathing proffered by the likes of iconoclastic history and news satire programming—the sorts of things that progressive leaders defend if not patronize.

In other words, we have folks who want the fruit of patriotism while doing nothing to nourish the tree that produces it. If anything, they’re pouring herbicide on its roots.

Progressives have attempted to redefine crucial aspects of reality. Everything has become contested, from sexuality and matrimony to humanity and the good itself. This wider controversy includes what America means and what a “good American” looks like. All of a sudden, those that hold to similar values as their grandfathers are at odds with what America now means. In cutting more traditional folks out from polite society, cultural leaders have basically said, “You don't have a real share in this. Your good is not a part of the common good.” And the feeling has become mutual, with disillusionment rising on the right.

Now, America’s citizens see their own country primarily as a source of evil in the world. As a result, any claims about protecting who we are or what we have as Americans ring hollow to those thinking we need to radically reject our past and even our present. Soon, those that have cheered the demise of traditional American patriotism may find themselves desirous of its effects. They spent a lot of time and effort sowing the wind. The whirlwind may be devastating.

Barton J. Gingerich

The Rev. Barton J. Gingerich is the rector of St. Jude’s Anglican Church (REC) in Richmond, Va. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in history from Patrick Henry College and a Master of Divinity with a concentration in historical theology from Reformed Episcopal Seminary.

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