America has had better birthdays.
On the 242nd anniversary of our independence, Americans express deep unhappiness with border policies separating immigrant children from parents. Polling suggests that most consider their president dishonest. Financial markets and corporate leaders fear destructive trade wars.
As a result, a new Gallup Poll this week found sagging patriotism. For the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 2001, fewer than half of U.S. adults, 47 percent, call themselves extremely proud to be American. Five years ago, the number was 10 percentage points higher.
In some ways, the new numbers tell a familiar story: Older Americans express fiercer pride in the country as it exists, than more rebellious young people seeking change.
Republican conservatives salute the flag more vigorously than Democratic liberals seeking to disrupt the status quo. For decades, that disparity has fueled the political narrative that led Ronald Reagan’s acolytes to accuse opponents of “blaming America first.”
Yet the Gallup findings also reflect the unique challenge Donald Trump’s presidency poses to modern America.
His brand of “America First” populism threatens institutions built and sustained by every other president since World War II, for the benefit of America and other nations alike. He has initiated trade conflicts with allies such as Canada and the European Union, as well as adversaries such as China.
He has cast doubt on American security commitments that have kept the peace across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. He explicitly blames America first, ascribing the nation’s problems to the stupidity and incompetence of predecessors in the White House.
At the same time, Trump stands apart from America’s “melting pot” tradition — the notion, as House Speaker Paul Ryan likes to say, that the nation is built “on an idea, not an identity.”
He backs reductions in legal as well as illegal immigration, while linking Hispanics crossing the southern border to violent crime. He appeals to the racial resentments of his white supporters by denouncing African-American athletes for protesting racial injustice.
As America grows ever-more diverse, that places Trump at odds with large chunks of the nation he was elected to lead. And it takes a toll on how those groups feel about their country.
Only one group reports greater patriotism than five years ago. Among Republicans, 74 percent call themselves extremely proud to be Americans, up from 71 percent in 2013.
Among non-white adults, the proportion saying that has fallen from 47 percent to 33 percent. Among those under 30 – an overlapping group since younger Americans are more racially diverse than older ones – it has plummeted from 55 percent to 33 percent; among women, from 55 percent to 44 percent; among college graduates, from 53 percent to 39 percent.
None of this means Americans are repudiating their country. Seven in ten describe themselves as either “extremely” or “very” proud to be Americans.
There are plenty of good reasons of pride. Our economy keeps growing and adding jobs. Our military forces remain the most powerful in the world.
Crime rates, by recent historical standards, are low. As hot and polarized as political rhetoric has become, there is no prospect of anything resembling “civil war.”
And if institutions providing checks and balances in American government have bent under Trump’s presidency, they have not broken. The Justice Department investigation of Russia’s 2016 election meddling, the Trump campaign, and potential obstruction of justice continues under Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Moreover, elections for Congress in November give the majority of Americans who disapprove Trump’s performance the chance to step on the brakes.
A separate poll this week, by Quinnipiac University, showed they intend to do just that. The Quinnipiac survey showed Democrats leading by 50 percent to 41 percent in the generic ballot for the House, which is currently controlled by President Trump’s fellow Republicans.
The same groups that voiced diminished patriotic fervor to Gallup — Democrats, non-whites, women, the young —expressed the most motivation to exercise voting rights this Election Day that America received at its independence.