Proud to Be American

(Photo: The U.S. Army)

(Photo: The U.S. Army)

Watching the Olympics in a foreign country (the U.K.) brings out the super-patriot in me.  I’m cheering for the U.S. athletes in each event, and I don’t even care about the games!

Is this patriotism unusual?  Actually, we Americans are outliers in this regard.  In a recent set of World Values Surveys, 71 percent of Americans responded positively when asked if they were very proud of their country. Among 16 other rich countries in the surveys, the average was only 45 percent.  And only Australians and Irish were as proud as we seem to be. The jingoism of the networks in the U.S. during the Olympics caters to, and perhaps reinforces, our attitudes.

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  1. RZ says:

    I think it comes down to absence making the heart grow fonder. :-) I experienced something similar when I moved cross country. Where I used to live in California, I was surrounded by many people of the same ethnic background; however, I didn’t attend too many cultural events. Where I live now, the concentration of people in the same ethnic group as me is much smaller, but I find myself going to many more events to be part of the group.

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  2. Devin says:

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    • Devin says:

      Ooooo, US citizens are a tad touchy it seems. I’ve spent a lot of time in the US, and let me tell you, I would never live there.

      The reality is that the US isn’t that good of a country when compared to the other top countries in the world. Embrace this fact and improve your country.

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  3. Nequelquepart says:

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  4. Martin says:

    I am not always convinced, despite survey data like this, that Americans are that much more “patriotic.” My counter is always Canada, which is very proud of not being very proud. I swear there are many more Canadian flags and maple leafs on display per capita in Canada than there are stars and stripes in the U.S.

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    • Average.Random.Joe says:

      So you think the empirical survey results are bunk because you have anecdotal observational evidence to the contrary? hmmmm.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        Self-reports don’t exactly produce stellar empirical evidence.

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    • AJ says:

      Looks like we Canadians are similarly proud of our nation. Results from the 2008 World Values Surveys:

      Very Proud – 65.3% USA – 69.9% CAN
      Quite Proud – 26.6% USA – 26.8% CAN

      Given the quoted rate of 71%, it looks like the US has had a 6 point increase in the Very Proud response rate since 2008.

      My impressions were that we Canadians aren’t as big flag wavers at home, but maybe more so when abroad. Whenever I’m on a tropical vacation, I’m sure to bring my Hockey Canada hat and sandals.

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  5. Oliver says:

    First of all I think that in a country that was part of a bigger empire/country/etc. and actively fought for its independence a “heroic” narrative about the country’s values is much more present and accepted in every day life, upbringing, and education.
    In central Europe the devastating events of the two world wars have fundamentally changed how Patriotism is perceived. Often expressing pride of one’s country is seen as being nationalistic and – by implication – borderline racist. Germans often joke that the football worldcup is the only ocassion you can have a German flag without getting some weird looks. Although this has become less of an issue gradually since e late 90s.
    The very concept of “country” is problematic, too. When using the word country people can mean a whole conglomerate of elements that include a country’s history, famous citizens, economic wealth, judicial tradition, ethical values, and MANY other things up to that really really obvious toupe the prine minister is wearing. Of all the things that make of this abstract “country” or “nation”, a lot of things will not be great, some will be outright bad. We don’t want to show support for those bad things, we express pride in defined things we deem positive about our countries, for example the way it treats the poorr advances the scieces or how successful their national sports teams are – but it’s pride of the sportsteam, not pride of the country as a whole. (I will not go into detail here about if it makes actually any SENSE to be proud of a sports team you have not invested anything in – unlike a football club you invested your time in for years – and have nothing in common but the accintal same country of birth).
    Ibalism is a very song factor in societies world wide, be it in the form of racism, religion, patriotism, etc. Sports have always been a very good projection for that, giving people a way to feel a sense of belonging and – trough the underlying social framework/methods – defining oneself by setting one’s own beliefs in contrast to others (ingroup vs outgroup).
    If you wanted to reduce patriotism to a fortune cookie text, you could try something like this: “Some people are not proud of their country because of its negative aspects. A patriot is proud of his country DESPITE its negative aspects.” (If you have a very large fortune cookie you can add “because she sees a central aspect as being fundamentally good and view negative events as a perversion that are not truely part of what defines the country.”).
    Personally I’d rather put my trust, energy and pride in more tangible things though. Also in general you could always argue that semantically you should be proud only of things you directly or indirectly helped manifest, and feel “joy” or maybe “love” for/about other things – this might of course vary from language to language and for diffent groups of speakers.

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  6. Shane L says:

    Two things strike me.

    First, many developed countries had empires and today imperialism is unpopular. Hence old colonial powers like Britain, France, Spain, Italy, etc. have what now seems to many like a rather shameful history. (Germany had a small overseas empire but of course had Nazism and the Holocaust.)

    The US expanded rapidly in the 19th century so it’s interesting that it doesn’t seem to have post-colonial shame, but maybe this is related to the role it played after World War II in supporting decolonisation, and later in confronting communism?

    Little Ireland had no colonial history and Irish nationalists could and did depict the Irish as victims of British imperialism. Hence it’s easy for modern Irish people to state pride in their country, especially since the end of major paramilitarism in Northern Ireland has removed its association with IRA terrorism.

    Second, I guess that in many Old World countries, nationalism has historically been a kind of ethnic nationalism: Germany for Germans, Poland for Poles, Ireland for Irish, etc. In the US, very broadly speaking, there was a national identity built around a notion of liberty that allowed diverse European nationalities, and eventually Asians and black Americans, to integrate and adopt a new American identity. In the 21st century there are now large ethnic minority groups in many Old World countries, but such countries may have struggled to come to terms with the significance of this on their national identities. If being German means being an ethnic German with roots in Germany going back centuries, Turk-Germans may find it hard to integrate and be accepted. I’m guessing there may be some discomfort over national pride in Old World countries because of this: ethnic nationalism is associated with the brutalities of early 20th century and may seem out-dated considering the new ethnic mixes in such countries. The US and Australia may escape this because they were mixing (mixing European groups anyway) from an early period and founding new national identities that were not based on ancient roots in the land.

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    • Roland says:

      Well argued. However, the main problem seems to lie in the distinction between patriotism and nationalism, as different people use these terms in different ways. For most Europeans, nationalism refers to that feeling of ‘my country, right or wrong’, as opposed to parriotism’s ‘love of country’ (which also varies among individuals). A simple way of determining whether a people tend to one or the other is to see whether or not it is common to tell someone – to their face – to “go back to where you came from”. Patriots don’t do that, nationalists do. As a white American who speaks more than one language, I’ve been told to “f*** off back to your country” on more than one occasion by Americans, but not once by the British (I’ve lived in Britain for the past twenty years). Oh, and the ‘requests’ were made before I moved to Britain; since 9/11, especially, I simply smile and wave while in the US…

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  7. Eric M. Jones says:

    Is this patriotism unusual? Well, perhaps not by the numbers.

    But dogs and monkeys run in packs. It is probably true that patriotism is similar. It is pitiful to actually believe that America is superior without defining what particular thing we are talking about.

    Certainly America is “better” in some areas (even many areas) and worse in others. But “patriotism” seems a pointless celebration. Your Mileage May Vary.

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    • NZ says:

      To get a decent proxy measure of whether country A is objectively better than country B, you can look at immigration (or, via waiting lists, would-be immigration) volume and rates between the two and try to control for variables.

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  8. NZ says:

    If the 16 rich countries are basically what I presume them to be, then these are basically all “white” countries. White people are the only people who are taught not to be nationalistic or proud of their ethnicity. So, the survey results would make sense in that case.

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    • nequelquepart says:

      NZ, I think as a general rule this is true, but not exclusive white people. Socioeconomic status in the country one was raised in and the overwhelming culture plays huge roles. Europeans tend to equate nationalism with selfishness and the more liberal regard all cultures as equal. I agree most American students are taught that today because most teachers are of the liberal persuasion(which constitutes an entirely different set of biases).

      My overseas experience in Africa, Asia, and Europe tells me that for natives (Africans & South Asians at least), the higher the education level, the greater variability in the degree of nationalism between individuals. I am not convinced any two sets of national masses of people in the developing world think alike in terms of nationalism. Too many variables are involved.

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      • NZ says:

        Fair enough, but surely there are emergent patterns. If American nationalism drops off among those with high school diplomas, let’s say, then in Mexico or Kenya it drops off among those with bachelors degrees, and in Guatemala or Tanzania among those with masters and doctorates. (Wikipedia lists 5 institutes of higher learning in Tanzania, four of which look as though they might offer doctorates.)

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