A stunning proportion of young Americans, according to multiple surveys and polls in recent years, don’t like their country very much. Allow the following numbers sink in:
While 89 percent of Americans in their late teens and twenties self-identified as “somewhat patriotic” or “very patriotic” in a 2002 poll by the Institute of Politics at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government, this proportion had dropped to 63 percent by 2020. And if that weren’t alarming enough, a survey conducted jointly by The Wall Street Journal and NBC News in 2019 revealed that only 42 percent of Generation Z (born between 1997 and 2012) and millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) said patriotism is very important.
Beware of anti-government violent extremists
To add to the burden that young Americans feel less proud of their country than previous generations, the federal government introduced a “national strategy for countering domestic terrorism” in June 2021—an attempt to challenge “domestic terrorism activity” and “protect both the nation and the civil liberties of its citizens.”
The statement on the official White House website added that:
“…expert assessment of the domestic terrorism threat found that … the two most lethal elements of today’s domestic terrorism threat are (1) racially or ethnically motivated violent extremists who advocate for the superiority of the white race and (2) anti-government or anti-authority violent extremists, such as militia violent extremists.”
Suppose that the federal government’s intellectually genius and strategic minds are keen to devise a plan to tackle “domestic extremism” supposedly motivated by anger, resentment, and the exclusion of perceived non-compatible groups from American society. In that case, more and more young Americans need to become not “somewhat patriotic” but “very patriotic” and “extremely proud to be an American.”
And no, not just those who are likely to vote Republican.
Why that’s the case will be addressed in a moment.
What does “domestic extremism” mean to many Americans?
Fiercely libertarian Americans and those with a conservative disposition might interpret “domestic extremism” as fellow Americans engaging in the following activities: not being left alone and coerced into sacrificing bodily autonomy to earn a dignified living. Also, protesting or even questioning the results of an election and then being thrown into jail or experiencing phycological harassment. Supporting the prohibition of the teaching of Critical Race Theory because they believe in achieving academic excellence through equal opportunity without bashing or victimizing anyone due to their racial or ethnic composition. Being cast a “bigot” for having a traditional view of marriage and the nuclear family. To draw a line on their kindergartners learning about sexual preferences or attending Drag Queen Story Hour while having a socially liberal bent on other issues—a perfectly reasonable viewpoint that might be considered offensive in some parts of 21st century America.
In addition to many Americans’ heightened experiences simply due to expressing their beliefs, Hollywood’s tendency to portray certain people in a negative light hasn’t gone unnoticed to the perspective eye.
Catwoman and the Riddler’s sense of injustice
Anyone who watched Catwoman, starring Halle Berry, might be forgiven for feeling somewhat unsettled with the overt (but unspoken) depiction of every White character as the anti-hero and everyone else as a force for good. Many Americans might speculate that such a movie, released in 2004, reflected the beginnings of influencing a generation into self-loathing for being White. And not to mention intensifying segregation, tribalism, distrust, and finger-pointing between inhabitants in a New World that arguably needs to promote assimilation into Americanism.
Speaking of Catwoman, what could be learned from fellow superhero in The Batman? Released earlier this year, this movie’s version of Catwoman stars Zoë Kravitz, who shares a strikingly similar complexion to Halle Berry. Comparably, every good character is Black or of perceived non-White heritage, and every wrongdoer is White–except for Batman, for now anyway.
Aside from the predictable themes around rampant crime, police corruption and discrimination against those belonging to a particular social class, Catwoman just had to find a way to tell Batman, “All anyone cares about in this place are the white, privileged a**holes.” Of course, she was referring to those she thought were villains who happened to be White. Still, this poisonous language has become too familiar in Hollywood scriptwriting, often stirring further animosity between some Americans and their fellow citizens who happen to be White, genuinely believed to be the cause of their experienced systemic injustice and oppression.
Batman resides in Gotham City, where many people have lost hope that their institutions will help solve their societal problems. While Kravitz’s character is complaining about “white, privileged a**holes,” the Riddler arrives at the scene: a devious schemer and a ruthless serial killer who considers himself the hero in exposing Gotham’s corruption, often leaving Batman clues to prove he is more strategically brilliant. He is also a young White man who believes the world is against him.
The Riddler has experienced injustice after being abandoned as an orphan. With a shared grievance, a group of people connect over the internet to power the Riddler’s revolution, convinced that the only way to bring about change is taking up arms against a government they believe owes them recognition and respect. The Riddler emits a kind of resentment, which will be relatable to some Americans, brewing over a particular group or establishment perceived as the root of their problems—their enemy. And that the only way to gain power and win at life is to obliterate this enemy’s very existence.
Indeed, the Riddler’s goal could be the wet dream of many who believe the establishment isn’t working for people like them and should be displaced entirely. Spoiler alert ahead: by the end of the movie, this narcissist gets caught by the police; however, he had already orchestrated his master plan by ordering his minions to carry out his ultimate goal of destroying Gotham. The Riddler’s revolution, in actuality, is a form of domestic extremism among cult-like gatherings of internet trolls who believe that their world is completely ignoring them and, if nothing else, are cast as villains purely because they were born a White male.
Consider the decades of blatant anti-White rhetoric spewing from Hollywood, which many would speculate, is part of systemic progressive politics penetrating the arts, culture, media and education. Moreover, the amplification and politicization of movements such as Black Lives Matter compared to meagre coverages of an opioid epidemic plaguing primarily White Americans, with U.S. military veterans accounting for a disproportionately high death toll. Not least, the projection that America is to become “minority-White” by 2045 will energize many to form movements to protect the collective interests of their fellow Americans, especially if they believe that the establishment has completely ignored or picked on them year after year. In contrast, some are feeling provoked: they will merely spew their angst in a reactionary, and often vulgar, manner on social media, and whether such expressions remain confined to the digital world or whether their sense of losing power bleeds into the Land of the Free is a concern expressed by the federal government.
The real antidote: cultivating a strong sense of patriotism
Cultivating a strong sense of American patriotism, identity and belonging among young people may diffuse the potential likelihood of verbal and physically violent outbursts from those who might otherwise feel bedeviled, victimized, left behind and made to feel like second-class citizens in their own country.
Although Americans likely to lean Republican may define patriotism differently from their Democrat counterparts, fostering a love of country among their children ought to be an obvious (hopefully) shared goal. America must therefore deliver a “pro-America” curriculum that isn’t just limited to the classrooms of private institutions with a conservative disposition and doesn’t involve crucifying or victimizing any particular group, which would further stoke tension in a young nation already uneasy with herself.
As a unique and young nation of 246 years, learning American history is essential toward fostering patriotism and national unity—and this means understanding the good, the bad and the ugly. Indeed, learning the turbulent and equally remarkable history of the United States can be uncomfortable for many, irrespective of whether they are of Mayflower stock, have an ancestor who was enslaved, are descended from a 19th century immigrant from Southern Europe or an international student from Zambia.
Concerned Presidents and Founding Fathers
The New World was settled by Protestants from England with an unparalleled work ethic searching for religious freedom and economic opportunities and grew on a bedrock of Christian values to become a thriving hub of entrepreneurial activity. Such an exceptional history celebrates the Great Experiment to test a revolutionary form of government. To this end, a throbbing concern of past leading figures was maintaining a united American national identity. Therefore, it was essential to reinforce American ideals and promote assimilation through the guiding principles of the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. Without this guidance, influenced by the Magna Carta, the English Bill of Rights of 1689, the Declaration by John Locke, and likely Dutch writing, this young nation could quickly disintegrate into “the old country” groupthink and tribalism.
As John Quincy Adams explained to a German visitor about European immigrants, “They must cast off the European skin, never to resume it. They must look forward to their posterity rather than backward to their ancestors.” Echoing this viewpoint, Theodore Roosevelt stated that the ultimate way to bring America to ruin “would be to permit it to become a tangle of squabbling nationalities.”
It is impossible to forget George Washington’s writing, “the bosom of America is open to receive,” but to the extent that, “by an intermixture with our people, they, or their descendants, get assimilated to our customs, manners and laws: in a word, soon become one people.”
Indeed, Alexander Hamilton said the nation’s fate would hinge on its citizens’ love of country, “the energy of a common national sentiment, [and] a uniformity of principles and habits,” and that, “the influx of foreigners must, therefore, tend to produce a heterogeneous compound; to change and corrupt the national spirit; to complicate and confound public opinion; to introduce foreign propensities.”
Addressing polite conservative society
A stinging truth must be confronted in polite conservative society, particularly among Republicans who think that a strong economy alone and more job opportunities will diffuse tension between classes of Americans and extinguish brewing thoughts of mass shootings by disgruntled men.
With loosened immigration policies over the years, a subset of immigrants have viewed their relationship with America as a business transaction in a purely capitalist sense with an attitude of, “what’s it in for me,” while maintaining a strong affinity and loyalty to a different country, with no interest in becoming an American.
Furthermore, another cohort of Americans will incessantly feel a sense of entitlement that their government owes them something because “my ancestors built this nation” when America was in its infancy before the Declaration of Independence. And some Americans descended from enslaved Africans, or immigrants and indentured servants before the 20th century might believe “we are the natives” or “we came here first,” convinced they have higher worthiness to exist in the Land of the Free. As a result, they won’t be able to appreciate newly arrived business-minded individuals who are ambitious about immersing themselves in their adopted country’s culture and political heritage and contributing to the evolution of this great nation.
With the above said, teaching all young Americans about their country’s history is a steppingstone towards creating solidarity with fellow Americans whose ancestors might have different experiences and restoring love of country. Young people can listen to uncomfortable truths and honor exceptionalism, for the path to national unity is through a shared identity as Americans.
It does need to be said that some Americans will prioritize collective interests based around “blood and soil.” They may even feel repulsed by people from a genetically distant ethnicity they perceive as beneath them and, in some cases, might start harboring unwanted violent thoughts towards their fellow citizens. This uncomfortable truth will not change for as long as any human civilization exists.
On a slightly different note, many have families they love and want to leave a legacy in the country they love? How many fathers, for example, want their adult children to speak highly of them after they’ve gone and share reminiscing stories: “Your grandfather was a doer. And when he said something, people listened. He fought every day like a winner, and he never bowed down to bullies. He never apologized for doing what he knew to be right when put under pressure.”
When everyday White men stop seeing themselves as the anti-hero compared with everyone else who doesn’t share their complexion, that’s a step towards unity. Likewise, when lessons in America stop inferring that all White people are the societal oppressors and stop instilling shame in White children for benefiting from their forefathers’ actions, that’s a step towards unity. And while young Americans may be proud of their ancestral “old country” heritage, they are, first and foremost, American. They’ve assimilated, and a common shared identity will go a long way to creating a more prosperous future for young people in a safer United States of America.
By: Cameron Keegan
Cameron Keegan is an independent researcher and writer on American politics, faith, and culture affecting young people through a conservative disposition. To learn more about Cameron’s work, visit https://ckeeganan.substack.com, and for comments or questions, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.