- - Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Patriots proliferate on the Fourth of July, with the red, white and blue all around. But after the fireworks fade from the night sky the Stars and Stripes are often relegated to the back of the hall closet. In 2016, so the pollsters find, many are not so proud to be Americans.

A Gallup poll published prior to Independence Day found that only 52 percent of respondents say they are “extremely proud” to be Americans. This the lowest number in the history of asking that question. Another 42 percent say they’re at least “moderately proud” and only 6 percent say they’re “only a little proud,” or “not all all proud.”

Americans in the recent past were eager to profess their love of country. In 2003, shortly after the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Gallup found 70 percent of respondents “extremely proud” of their American identity. The George W. Bush years, in which the Iraq War dominated the headlines, saw the number decline and the percentage has continued to fall in the Obama era. Gallup’s analysis puts the cause as “Americans’ continued frustration with national conditions — likely tied to concern about the economy and lack of faith in public institutions.”

The largest shift in attitude is found among the young, ages 18 to 29. In 2003, 60 percent in this group identified themselves as “extremely proud” of their nation, but in 2016 the proportion has fallen to 34 percent. How to explain such a rapid reversal? The answer may come down to a post-modern view of the meaning of patriotism among young Americans.

A recent poll by the Pew Research Center found that 89 percent of all Americans consider themselves to be “very patriotic.” But when asked whether the nation’s success is due to its “ability to change” or its “reliance on long-standing principles,” several generation gaps appeared. Among members of the “silent generation,” ages 70 to 87, 46 percent said America’s success is due to its reliance on long-standing principles while 43 percent credit the nation’s ability to change. In contrast, 62 percent of millennials, age 18 to 34, say the nation’s success is due to its ability to change.

By this measure, patriotism for millennials no longer includes a sense of standing on the shoulders of giants who sacrificed themselves to build and preserve the values of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Instead, it embodies the ability to shake off the trappings of the past and erect something new and perceived as “cool.” Coming of age in the Obama era, the youngest generation puts a premium on the nation’s capacity to transform itself. President Obama has rarely missed an opportunity to wave his banner of “hope and change,” nor has he been shy about showing his disdain for the dead white men who laid the cornerstone of the nation and bequeathed the principles, not always honored to be sure, that has made the United States the exceptional nation and the envy of the world.

Young Americans who follow Mr. Obama’s example of devaluing the blood, sweat and tears of their forbears should ponder whether they have the courage and ability to “pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.” Those who don’t might be one of Thomas Paine’s “sunshine soldiers” whose courage and fortitude ebb when gloom covers the path forward.

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