Proud to be an American? A recent Gallup poll reveals that such pride has dropped precipitously this year. Conducted from May 28-June 4, 2020, the poll reveals the lowest pride in America since the poll began in 2001. 42% are extremely proud, 21% are very proud, 15% are moderately proud, 12% are a little proud, and 9% are not proud at all. Yet, there was a time when 92% of Americans were extremely or very proud to be an American – way back in 2003. Even as recently as 2016, that number was 81% – today it has dropped to 63%.
Is it any wonder? In the last few years we have impeached our President; saturated the news with toxic, biased, partisan coverage; engaged in nearly continuous histrionics in Congress; erupted in mass protests, looting, and riots; crashed our economy in the worst recession since the Great Depression; grappled with a catastrophic pandemic; shaken international relations; and suffered unrelentingly assaults on the goodness of America from entertainers, journalists, and politicians. Plus, a neighborhood in Seattle has seceded. Actually, I take it back – that all happened since December 2019.
Meanwhile, our K-12 civics and American history scores are wretched. The Nation’s Report Card shows that only 24% of 8th graders are proficient in civics; and it is worse in US History – only 15% are proficient. Meanwhile, the New York Time’s 1619 Project twists American History into politically motivated propaganda which insidiously spreads silently across the nation. Editors and journalists expressing any mild opinion outside of the hypercritical orthodoxy are fired on the spot.
Do we have reason to have some pause about American pride? Certainly. Huge swaths of our past are shameful: slavery; American Indian genocide; sex, racial, ethnic, and religious discrimination; and police brutality. We can readily jump into the rabbit hole of all our flaws and surrender ourselves to intense bitterness and endless disdain.
However, we only can do that because we are Americans. If you are under some mistaken belief that other countries have had flawless, utopian pasts populated by saints and free range unicorns, you are simply ignorant of history. Spend 10 minutes reviewing the history of China, Russia, France, England, Egypt, Mexico, Spain, Zaire, Cambodia, Sweden – they are full of horrors we can barely contemplate. There is scarcely a person alive who can draw a line through their family history and not find someone who abused, murdered, or oppressed others. Especially if it all takes is having the wrong skin color, ethnic group, creed, or religion. We are the descendants of the survivors in a brutal lineage of barbarism, war, famine, plagues, and oppression. And in many, many places, it is still going on.
We are brutal with our self-criticism because we are Americans. Why are we so self-critical? Because on July 4, 1776, we declared, in writing for the entire world to see, certain self-evident truths to which we dedicated our lives, fortunes, and sacred honor. In our Declaration of Independence we announced our founding First Principles of equality, limited government, the rule of law, unalienable rights, the Social Compact, and the right to alter or abolish oppressive government. We were the first nation to do so. We are the only nation to so. That is something to cherish. Most especially now.
Some of us became Americans yesterday. Some are descendants of various waves of immigration seeking freedom and prosperity. Some came as indentured servants. Some were brought over in chains. Some were conquered. We are every religion, race, ethnic group, and creed. Most of us are mutts. Regardless of how we got here, we are all Americans.
As Americans, we all deserve to have the promises of the Declaration of Independence fulfilled. There is no doubt that America did not fulfill those First Principles for all in 1776 or even today. But the belief in those First Principles have inspired generations of patriots to move us closer to their fulfillment. Abolitionism, woman’s suffrage, and the civil rights struggles all called upon the First Principles to push the country toward the arc of justice. Demands for equality, the equal application of the rule of law, and protecting the unalienable rights of everyone is at the heart of the protests against police brutality. Unlike any other country in the world, we stand for trying to move our country closer to our First Principles. This has always taken hard work – and it always will.
Spurious attacks on our foundations and false narratives will lead to the ruin of the greatest, freest nation the world has ever seen. We should not despise the Declaration of Independence and tear down our nation. Instead, following in the footsteps of Thomas Paine, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Martin Luther King, Jr., and countless others, we should embrace our First Principles and do our part in improving our great land.
Personally, I am troubled not only by the dwindling enthusiasm for America by Americans, but also the Gallup poll’s measure – pride. Pride is the gravest of the seven deadly sins. As Americans, we need to relish our birthright while also embracing humility.
With appropriate humility, we should rejoice in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, our First Principles, and all the good that America has accomplished. This is why my daughter and I started Patriot Week’s celebration that spans from September 11 (the anniversary of the terrorist attacks) – September 17 (the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution). We commemorate our First Principles plus many of the Patriots who helped us better fulfill them. Without a renewal of the spirit of America, our country will die – by suicide – and the world will have lost its last, best hope for freedom. This Independence Day, celebrate our Declaration of Independence, and rededicate yourself to perfecting our Union for the good of all mankind.
Hon. Michael Warren is an Oakland County Michigan Circuit Court Judge, former member of the State Board of Education, host of the Patriot Lessons: American History & Civics podcast, and co-founder of Patriot Week (www.PatriotWeek.org) with his then 10 year old daughter Leah.