Patriotism, tolerance, religious observance and community involvement are all on steep declines, according to new polling published in the Wall Street Journal, and if we are being honest, the results are scary.
The declining numbers in almost every area of civic life are not just a threat to civility and social cohesion, they are a threat to America’s national security.
The numbers strike a stark and quite serious chord. In 1998 70% of Americans surveyed said that patriotism was very important to them. Today? Just 38%, and that’s down from 61% in just 4 years.
There are similar deep dips in the numbers for how important religion (down 33%) or community involvement (down 35%) are, in fact the only object that has surged in importance according to this polling is money which gained a cool 12% points.
Perhaps the most shocking and dangerous result of the survey involves tolerance of others and their views. In 2019 80% of Americans backed this foundational American value, today that has dwindled to a mere 58%.
Placed on top of each other these numbers present a pernicious palimpsest of an America that is changing, and not for the better. We are now a nation with less pride in our flag, a nation without a God to obey, a nation in which communities are crumbling as Americans distrust and even hate each other.
If these numbers are a cold cup of coffee for a country that needs to wake up to its internal divisions, they are a Christmas present to our geo-political foes who not only thrive on but also stoke this disastrous divisiveness.
When Special Counsel Robert Mueller dropped his report on foreign interference in the 2016 election we were so focused on the guilt or innocence of then President Donald Trump that we mostly ignored the report’s main finding, that Russia’s internet troll farms were not so much trying to swing an election as make Americans revile each other.
As Rep. Michael Waltz put it after an intelligence briefing in 2020, “You name the divisive issue — racial tensions, gun rights, pro-life, pro-choice, and what they’ve talked about is trying to stir and sow discord on both sides of every issue.”
While it is not entirely clear just how much of an impact foreign information operations, not just from Russia but also from China, Iran, and others, have had on these declines in support for basic American values, what is clear is that these declines harm us and help them.
For those authoritarian nations wishing to depose America and the West as the global superpower, a steep decline in patriotism is a dream come true. Furthermore, the drop in tolerance is an opportunity for our enemies to not just foment anger and division, but actual violence.
Just this month in response to Stanford Law students shouting down a supposedly anti-trans federal judge attempting to give remarks, one professor at Wayne State wrote on Facebook, “I think it is far more admirable to kill a racist, homophobic, or transphobic speaker than it is to shout them down.
What is amazing and darkly troubling here is not just that the professor made such a statement, but that they felt comfortable posting it on social media, as if their friends and acquaintances would just nod along saying to themselves, “yeah, maybe I should kill people I disagree with.”
The American political and media class need to take a long, sobering look in the mirror. Sadly, these steep declines in patriotism and tolerance, the vicious othering of those with whom we disagree can generate votes and clicks, but at a price far too dear for America to pay.
If there is a sliver of silver around the cloudy disposition of the American body politic it may be that we are waking up to external threats, especially those posed by China. A separate Gallup poll found that in 2018 53% of Americans had a positive view of the communist nation, today that had cratered to a mere and record low 15%.
We need leaders who will stress that we are all in this unlikely American experiment together, and that there are powerful global forces who want nothing more than to destroy it.
It was Benjamin Franklin who wrote, upon the signing of the Declaration of Independence that “we must all hang together, or most assuredly, we will all hang separately.” 246 years later it is still true.
Now is the time for patriotism, now is the time for community involvement, and now is most assuredly the time for tolerance.
In the United States of America, it is never too late.