WATSON: What Ever Happened To Patriotism?

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Christian Watson Contributor
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What ever happened to patriotism?

It’s difficult not to ask that question when surveying the cultural landscape of the United States. In a May 2023 survey, teenagers aged 13 to 17 were given a choice between their right to vote and giving up TikTok in a hypothetical scenario. Over 64% said they would prefer to keep TikTok and sacrifice their right to vote. And the vast majority of pro-Palestinian protesters on college campuses this spring? Gen Z. At an anti-Israel encampment at the University of Michigan, student protesters distributed flyers that stated “Freedom for Palestine means Death to America.”

These two instances of anti-American sentiment are not the only reasons for alarm. Educational initiatives like the 1619 project have tried to project a false idea of America as a sexist, racist and colonialist country. It’s a thesis that has been soundly rejected by historians and scholars alike, but for a brief moment the 1619 project received high praise in legacy media outlets such as The New York Times, and it was heralded as a roadmap for racial justice. How did an anti-American, ahistorical literature project gain such high esteem?

How did we get here?

It’s as much of a political question as it is a cultural one.

Patriotism has become partisan, according to data from FiveThirtyEight. Their survey found that 76% of Americans considered themselves patriotic, but the crosstabs tell the whole story. An astounding 97% of Republicans considered themselves patriotic, compared to 71% of Democrats — a substantial 26-point difference. A more recent survey conducted by Gallup in 2023 showed that only 39% of American adults felt “extremely proud” to be an American; the previous year, only 38% felt that way, a record low, according to the polling company.

Based on this data, it’s reasonable to conclude that the problem lies in two sources: apathy and partisanship.

For younger generations, it’s easy to become indifferent when they have cell phones, streaming-on-demand, video games, virtual reality and — of course — addictive social media apps like TikTok, X and Instagram. Gen Z overwhelmingly populates these digital spaces, preferring reels and retweets to civic duty. But can you blame them? Most Gen Z 20-somethings have grown up in an environment where the primary link to “community” is online. Why care about trying to improve life by voting when you can create your ideal existence in the Metaverse from the comfort of your bedroom? Patriotism suffers extensively from this mentality — as does the ability to concentrate and critically think, both of which are essential to foster appreciation of country.

For older generations, it’s not social media but partisanship that permeates life. Too many Americans view society through the prism of party politics, which then distorts one’s understanding of citizenship and harms their ability to be patriotic. Throw in a hefty dose of media sensationalism and around-the-clock news and things get even worse.

The solution to this problem is simple, but not so easily implemented.

For younger generations: unplug! And reconnect with real-life community. Volunteer at a local charity, visit some veterans and read about American heritage and history. I’ll even make a digital exemption if you prefer a Kindle over old-fashioned paper.

For older generations, inter-partisan dialogue is an effective means of easing the intensity of political differences. Groups like Better Angels, which emphasize the importance of welcoming different political views into our lives in order to overcome differences, practice this approach well.

There is no panacea for the problem of patriotism, but by meeting people where they are and emphasizing our great, remarkable history, we can overcome the digital and partisan divides and bring back appreciation of the red-white-and-blue.

Christian Watson is the Mobilization Coordinator at the New Tolerance Campaign.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller.