And I’m Proud To Be An American?

Lee Greenwood immortalized the lyrics, ‘And I’m proud to be an American where at least I know I’m free,’ in his 1984 (and 1992 and 2001)  hit single ‘God bless the U.S.A.’

It’s been a rally of patriotism during the Cold War, the 1st Gulf War, and after 9/11.

But it seems that American patriotism, especially pride in being Americans is reaching a modern all-time low, with only 52-percent of Americans extremely proud to be an American.

In most polls, 52-percent is a large number — usually representing a fairly hefty majority, as far as polling goes. But this is also down from 70-percent at its peak in 2003.

While all demographics are suffering a bit, Millennials and Gen-Xers are definitely leading the pack when it comes to having a lower faith in American patriotism.

We could make it through the Great Recession with no real relative change to American patriotism, what’s so different now that’s changing it?

War Weariness

Every civilization in the entire history of humanity has faced this when engaged in prolonged military conflicts. From the Romans, to the Khans, to America in the last 25 years of Gulf Wars, it takes its toll on the population.

That’s not a statement of the rightness or wrongness of why we are there, just that from a historical perspective, the population eventually gets weary of war being the status quo.

Even more difficult, it seems that no one has a clear-cut, great answer for an end to the wars — other than rhetoric of genocide (which would only serve to fuel other conflicts) or maintaining the status quo (continuing to fuel the weariness).

Even the military is feeling this weariness, barely meeting 2015 recruitment goals and having a difficult time in 2016 — largely due to changing societal opinions, youth obesity, and lower high school graduation rates.

The Economy

Especially within Millennials, the 2016 presidential races have become a primer in the economics of the haves and have nots.

Wealth concentration is at an all-time high. Regardless of the reasons, young Americans are much more likely to see this as a bad thing than the older generations.

A paradigm shift is occurring in the recipe for the American Dream. Once as simple as ‘Go to college, buy a house, life will be fine,’ it’s now a bit murkier with Millennials and Gen-Xers trying to figure out exactly how to pin down the American Dream.

Political Institutions

Two-thirds of Americans believe the political system is broken in how we select the presidential candidates.

With this many people having so little faith in the system of American government, it’s easy to see where this has a negative effect on our overall patriotism.

After all, part of American Exceptionalism is that we have the ‘best way’ to do the things that make us great — but fewer and fewer are believing that.

With America now choosing between the two worst liked major-party candidates and two minor-party candidates on opposite sides of the political spectrum, the broken system is pushing people away from the major parties — and at times away from even voting.

July 4, 2016

As we celebrate the 240th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, perhaps we really need to have a national review of what it means to be an American.

Things aren’t always great in America, but when you still have the right to complain publicly and try to advocate and effect change, you’re still ahead of the game from many of those living under dictatorships throughout human history.

And that’s the thing we really have to remember.

That we have avenues for change, we have a voice, but we have to figure out how to make that voice politically powerful enough to be heard.

Teddy Roosevelt is often attributed to saying, ‘Complaining about a problem without posing a solution is called whining‘ (though it’s disputed who actually said it, the meaning is the important part).

Solutions will be the cure — and those solutions will come from Millennials and Gen-Xers becoming and staying politically active, even when their ‘pet candidate’ isn’t nominated or their favorite issue gets shot down.

Over the next few years, the political baton will be passed from the older generations to the younger ones, especially as Boomers reach the age of retirement and old age.

But to be able to grab this baton and run with it will take practice, something Millennials and Gen-Xers are still not too good at doing politically.

So this 4th of July, my own generation of Xers and those younger in the Millennial generation need to really think about how they can stay politically active.

Because this will be our country to run eventually, and we’d better be ready to do it.