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A Crisis of Patriotism
Plus: Is America in denial?
I started today’s newsletter by writing the words, American Madness, and then thought about deleting them, because they seemed too dark for the day after the holiday.
And they also seemed unfair, because it is the shooters and their enablers who are the sick f***s, not the whole nation. Most Americans spent yesterday enjoying parades, fireworks, and picnics without being interrupted by mass murders. There were moments of gratitude and patriotism, and maybe a few scattered moments of remembering what America promises.
But it’s not possible to talk about this particular national birthday — July 4, 2022 — without noting that it also marked the 309th mass shooting here this year, when paradegoers aged 8 to 85 had their bodies blown apart by a high-powered weapon of war.
We’ll forget about it soon enough, retreating into our rhetorical doom loops, because this has become a national tradition.
And even if we are getting numb, that is, in fact, our exceptional and peculiar American Madness.
So we should not be surprised to learn that many of our fellow citizens seem to be going through a dark night of the soul when it comes to patriotism. A new Gallup poll finds that only 38 percent of Americans are “extremely proud” of being an American. Another 27 percent say they are “very” proud. Among Democrats, only a quarter (26%) say they are “extremely” proud,” a new low.
This record-low level of extreme national pride comes at a challenging time in the U.S. as a pandemic-weary public is struggling with the highest U.S. inflation rate in more than four decades. These data are from a June 1-20 poll that was conducted after mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, claimed 31 lives, including 19 children. Bipartisan gun legislation in response to the shootings was passed shortly after the poll ended. The polling also preceded the U.S. Supreme Court's highly anticipated and controversial ruling overturning Roe v. Wade.
Nota bene: a majority of Americans still express strong patriotism, but you can see the trend lines. The headline of this David Ignatius Wapo column captures the mood: “Nearly every American has a foreboding the country they love is losing its way.”
Ignatius cites a newly released study by the Pentagon’s in-house think tank that examines the danger of national decline. The report’s author is Michael J. Mazaar, a senior political scientist at the Rand Corp., and it is not a cheery read.
Mazarr’s disturbing conclusion is that America is losing many of the seven attributes he believes are necessary for competitive success: national ambition and will; unified national identity; shared opportunity; an active state; effective institutions; a learning and adaptive society; and competitive diversity and pluralism.
Let’s start with American ambition and confidence, once our most notable trait. “Writers and scholars alike . . . have argued that the spirit of adventurousness, experimentation and determination to remake the future have all ebbed in the American character,” Mazarr writes.
Our sense of shared national identity is also breaking down.
A country that was effective (sometimes brutally so) at assimilating diverse groups is more fragmented, and the idea of America as a “melting pot” seems archaic to many people. But our separate identities come at a cost: “A country with a rapidly diversifying population — though it gains competitive advantages from this diversity — will also face greater hurdles to sustaining a sense of coherent national identity,” Mazarr writes.
And he describes what happens to nations in decline.
When countries begin to fail, he argues, “it is a negative-feedback loop, a poisonous synergy.” The energy that could reverse decline becomes sapped by mistrust and misinformation. Some people get so angry they want to burn the house down and start over.
Which brings us back to this year’s July 4 celebration. We got a quick glimpse of the MAGA right’s new (?) version of patriotism:
And the former President of the United States woke up early to rage tweet:
In 1859, Lincoln wrote of the Declaration of Independence that not only was it important in 1776 but that it remained decisively important now and in the future: “To-day, and in all coming days, it shall be a rebuke and a stumbling-block to the very harbingers of re-appearing tyranny and oppression.”
Liz Cheney has stepped forward to be such a rebuke and stumbling-block to today’s threats of lawlessness and usurpation. Perhaps she is also a harbinger of better things to come as we enter our 247th year in the great journal of things happening under the sun.
I’d like to share that hopeful view, but every time I get that twinge of optimism, I remember this: “One in three Gen Zers think July 4th celebrates America’s independence from the Native Americans.”
Overall, less than 58 percent of all respondents correctly answered that America gained its freedom from Great Britain. Nearly eight percent said “Europe.” Over eight percent said “South America” and more than 12 percent chose “none of the above!”
(Editor’s note: I removed a previously posted chart after several readers suggested that it may have been bullsh*t.)
ICYMI: In an essay in the Atlantic, Mitt Romney writes that “Too many Americans are blithely dismissing threats that could prove cataclysmic.”
What accounts for the blithe dismissal of potentially cataclysmic threats? The left thinks the right is at fault for ignoring climate change and the attacks on our political system. The right thinks the left is the problem for ignoring illegal immigration and the national debt. But wishful thinking happens across the political spectrum. More and more, we are a nation in denial.
Romney writes that we’ve constructed elaborate mechanisms to keep us from addressing reality.
Bolstering our natural inclination toward wishful thinking are the carefully constructed, prejudice-confirming arguments from the usual gang of sophists, grifters, and truth-deniers. Watching angry commentators on cable news, I’m reminded of H. L. Mencken’s observation: “For every complex problem, there is a solution that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
And he addresses out bipartisan failure to confront the threat we face.
President Joe Biden is a genuinely good man, but he has yet been unable to break through our national malady of denial, deceit, and distrust. A return of Donald Trump would feed the sickness, probably rendering it incurable.
Congress is particularly disappointing: Our elected officials put a finger in the wind more frequently than they show backbone against it. Too often, Washington demonstrates the maxim that for evil to thrive only requires good men to do nothing.
I hope for a president who can rise above the din to unite us behind the truth. Several contenders with experience and smarts stand in the wings; we intently watch to see if they also possess the requisite character and ability to bring the nation together in confronting our common reality.
While we wait, leadership must come from fathers and mothers, teachers and nurses, priests and rabbis, businessmen and businesswomen, journalists and pundits. That will require us all to rise above ourselves—above our grievances and resentments—and grasp the mantle of leadership our country so badly needs.
Did Cassidy break through?
Via the Wapo, some interesting numbers: “Hutchinson’s account of cleaning Trump-strewn ketchup off White House walls and pleading with her onetime boss, former chief of staff Mark Meadows, to get off his phone and help quell the Capitol riot was watched by more viewers than all but one of the NBA Finals games this year.”
Is it changing any minds?
The hearings have broken through with Trump voters in ways many inside-the-Beltway obsessions don’t, according to Sarah Longwell, an anti-Trump Republican strategist who co-hosts the Bulwark’s “Focus Group” podcast. In three groups conducted with Trump voters since the hearings began, participants reported being aware of the hearings or watching parts of them.
“This is not a technical term, but I would describe their engagement as ‘hate-watching’ some of it,” Longwell said. “They say, ‘Oh, I turned it off, it’s so partisan, they’re just trying to get Trump.’ But at the end of the day, they’re still following it.”
[For] a man who famously avoids leaving emails or other trails of evidence of his unspoken motives, any doubts about what was really going through Mr. Trump’s mind on that day of violence seemed to have been eviscerated by testimony presented in recent weeks by the House committee investigating the Capitol attack — especially the dramatic appearance last week of a 26-year-old former White House aide who offered a chilling portrait of a president willing to do almost anything to hang onto power.
1. Doug Mastriano’s Election-Takeover Plan
[GOP gubernatorial nominee Doug Mastriano’s] platform includes the following:
loosening restrictions on poll watchers to make it easier to challenge votes;
repealing vote-by-mail laws;
appointing a fellow 2020 election-denier to be secretary of state who could enable him to decertify every voting machine “with a stroke of a pen”;
forcing all Pennsylvania voters to re-register; and
defunding the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
2. A Pro-Choicer and a Pro-Lifer Do Lunch
The day Dobbs was handed down, I happened to be lunching with a new friend who was upset and angry over the decision. She’s a libertarian and strongly pro-choice. I said “Sorry,” and meant it. Not that I agreed it was a bad decision (I was in the mushy middle with Justice Roberts), but just that I understood her feelings and sympathized. She, in turn, has lately come to see that pro-lifers have many good arguments, even if, at the end of the day, she didn’t find them compelling enough to change her mind.
3. Supreme Court Okays Coach’s Prayers
[It] seems all but certain that the ruling will open the door to other lawsuits from teachers and other public employees who will want to challenge whether prayer or other kinds of speech are protected, and in turn from students who might feel more clearly coerced by an authority figure than did the students in this case. The coming years may bring many more opportunities to see to what extent the current Court’s conservative majority has a genuine interest in protecting religious liberty.
Matt Labash on Mark Meadows: “How Mark Meadows betrayed his country with an ass-kiss.”
For as long as he’s been a public self-servant, the towel boy who served as Donald Trump’s fourth and last chief of staff has been a professional sleazebag. He’s no cartoon villain, mind you. If Meadows were a color, he’d be beige. Blessed with the pleasantly dishonest face of a swampland timeshare hustler, the former congressman, who once described himself as being a “fat nerd” as a kid, rarely says anything funny or compelling, unlike his Lord & Savior Donald H. Christ. Yet he forever manages to be controversial without actually being interesting, the sinisterness equivalent of a white noise machine. . . .