Patriotism, or at least the kind of patriotism that Americans associate with the 4th of July, is becoming the exclusive purview of the Republican Party, at least according to a Harvard study released last week. Key findings in the study conducted by Harvard Kennedy School Assistant Professor David Yanagizawa-Drott and Bocconi University Assistant Professor Andreas Madestam include:
The professors concluded that there is no point in a Democratic elected official attending a Fourth of July celebration because the nature of the event necessarily hurts the politician’s cause. The unpalatable smugness of the stereotypical left-wing academic was on full display as Yanagizawa-Drott and Madestam discussed how this state-of-affairs came to be:
“The political right has been more successful in appropriating American patriotism and its symbols during the 20th century,” they wrote. The researchers continued,
Survey evidence also confirms that Republicans consider themselves more patriotic than Democrats. According to this interpretation, there is a political congruence between the patriotism promoted on Fourth of July and the values associated with the Republican party. Fourth of July celebrations in Republican dominated counties may thus be more politically biased events that socialize children into Republicans.
It is surely a sad testament to the state of mind within academia that two professors would decide to undertake a study that was ultimately aimed at politicizing America’s birthday, but their rather dubious conclusions are all the more remarkable.
From a purely scientific point of view, it seems that Yanagizawa-Drott and Madestam are confusing effects for causes. Would it not be logical to conclude that children who grow up in stable homes in which parents highly value patriotism are more likely to identify with the Republican Party when they grow up? That relationship would seem to be the driver here and – oh yeah – it’s also probable that those same households are more likely to attend 4th of July celebrations than kids growing up in households in which the parents identify with modern Democrats and that party’s rejection of American exceptionalism.
Instead of following this rather obvious logical path to a reasonable conclusion, the pair of Ivy-league professors are trying to turn 4th of July celebrations into sinister rites that magically turn innocent, vulnerable youths into right-wing automatons. It’s a ridiculous conclusion, but one can hope that those on the left take the duo’s advice and stay away from “radical celebrations” memorializing the founding of this nation in the future. Anything that further marginalizes and exposes the left in the court of public opinion is ultimately good for America.
Is the Republican Party guilty of “appropriating” American patriotism and its symbols? That’s nonsense. If anything, the GOP – for all its faults – has helped save the ideals of American patriotism, its symbols and its defenders. The left tried to turn patriotism into a dirty word during the late sixties and seventies. Radicals burned flags, spit on soldiers and scorned the idea that American ideals and values were at all worthwhile, much less noble.
By and large, Republicans consistently rejected that kind of thinking, even when the patriotic tide had ebbed. No doubt some GOP elected officials did so because the political calculus demanded it. The folks who voted Republican – even during the worst of the Viet Nam era’s turbulence – were the people who still got misty-eyed when they heard the strains of “America the Beautiful” or saw the flag waving in a mid-summer’s breeze. No politician would knowingly offend his base, so Republicans stuck with the old-fashioned brand of patriotism their constituents demanded, even as the Democratic Party lurched in a very different direction.
The other part of that particular political calculus was that, starting in about 1968, a patriotic American – in the sense that Americans had understood patriotism for the previous 200 years – didn’t have a choice in party if he or she wanted to serve in public office. Democrats were trying to get rid of the concept of patriotism, or to radically redefine it, so the only possible home for a patriotic candidate was (and pretty much still is) the Republican Party.
Democrats in general, and the left in particular, hate to acknowledge the kind of blanket statement like the one above. They claim to be as patriotic as anyone, and bemoan the alleged attempt to make patriotism a right-wing virtue. Except, what the left defines as patriotism has nothing to do with the way that most Americans understand the word. The left sees America as a kindly, infinitely wealthy rich uncle. Our duty, according to their vision, is to shower riches on the less fortunate in the global community and to gently intercede to correct the wrongs that our more worldly and wise partners in international governance deign to explain to us. The rest of America, which is to say most of it, sees little patriotism in getting excited over a “one world,” UN-led vision of utopia in which American ideas and ideals are given due and equal consideration, but ultimately don’t count for all that much.
But mainstream Americans believe there is something remarkable about this nation and its vision. It’s not that we’re better or smarter or more worthy than everybody else, it’s that we’re more fortunate than so many other nations. We were blessed with founders who had a vision and who believed that the people of the nation – if given the right tools, direction and authority – could fulfill that vision. We have succeeded beyond (I suspect) their wildest expectations. This hodgepodge collection of races, creeds, colors and ideas somehow managed not only to survive, but to thrive. It would be the height of folly to believe that a country could be created out of whole cloth and become the wealthiest, most powerful nation on Earth unless the systems, values and institutions that form the backbone of that nation were not immensely important.
Those who proudly identify as patriots are thus not patriotic out of bigoted arrogance – as a couple of Harvard professors would like the world to believe – but because of equal measures of pride, gratitude and benevolence. The patriotic are certainly very proud of being part of this wonderful country and surely appreciate the hard work and sacrifices of all of the Americans who came before them, who were instrumental in shaping this nation. And, finally, patriotic Americans hope to continue to share these blessings with the world, because that is both our duty and our destiny. It’s not about parades, in other words. It’s about understanding the past and using that knowledge to create a new, bright future for everyone.
Rich Trzupek is a chemist and veteran environmental consultant with over twenty-five years of experience in the field. He is the author of the Encounter Broadside How the EPA’s Green Tyranny is Stifling America and the upcoming book Regulators Gone Wild: How the EPA is Ruining American Industry (Encounter Books).