A new Pew survey found 44 percent of Americans don’t often feel pride in being an American, and only 28 percent said America is the greatest country in the world. Respondents who “often feel proud to be American” were overwhelmingly conservative (from 72 percent to 81 percent depending on the kind of conservative). A majority (60 percent) of “solid liberals” said they don’t often feel proud to be an American.
The polling data only proves what has been obvious for a while.
Georgia Rep. John Lewis recently said that, “If the Civil Rights Act was before the Congress today, it would not pass. It would probably never make it to the floor for a vote.”
Lewis is right. If it came before the Congress today, it wouldn’t pass. You know why? Because we passed it 50 years ago. The GI Bill wouldn’t pass today either, because it was enacted in 1944. If, somehow, we had Jim Crow today, the American people — and Congress — would vote to abolish it in a landslide.
In fairness, Lewis was primarily condemning congressional gridlock, not GOP racism.
A legitimate hero of the civil rights era, Lewis has adopted the liberal habit of suggesting his political opponents have a burning desire to return to the era of Jim Crow. At the 2012 Democratic convention, for instance, he gave a thundering speech equating a vote for Mitt Romney with going back to the era of segregation.
This glib anti-Americanism manifests itself most readily when issues of race and gender are in the headlines, but it hardly ends there. MSNBC host Chris Hayes celebrated soccer’s growing popularity in the U.S. because it strikes a blow against “anti-soccer trolls” who believe in American exceptionalism. “Part of embracing a truly worldwide competition,” Hayes cheered, “is accepting the fact the U.S. cannot simply assert its dominance. Turns out we have to play, just like everybody else.”
It’s ironic. In 2009, conservatives (myself included) pounced when Barack Obama seemed to dismiss American exceptionalism as an empty platitude. “I believe in American exceptionalism,” Obama explained, “just as I suspect that the Brits believe in British exceptionalism and the Greeks believe in Greek exceptionalism.”
By this standard, American exceptionalism isn’t exceptional. It’s a vague and meaningless form of national self-esteem, rather than a complex concept describing the uniqueness of the American founding and American character.
Liberals quickly and angrily defended Obama, saying none should dare question his patriotism, and of course he believes America is special. In May, Obama took another stab, telling West Point graduates he believes in American exceptionlism “with every fiber of my being.” But he immediately qualified what he meant by insisting that “What makes us exceptional is not flouting international norms and the rule of law; it’s our willingness to affirm them through our actions.”
Translation: We prove we’re exceptional by playing just like everyone else — just like playing soccer!
Why liberals have become so comfortable running down America is no doubt complicated, but I think one part of the answer is obvious. Liberals tend to equate patriotism with the government. Obama was supposed to usher in a glorious new era of European-style big government. He’s failed, though, alas, not entirely. But in the attempt, he aroused a populist movement — the tea parties — full of people who wore their traditional patriotism on their sleeves and tricorn hats. The forces of American exceptionalism proved formidable, taking advantage of our exceptional constitutional structure to thwart European social democracy.
And liberal resentment over that fact is palpable.
Jonah Goldberg is a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online.