United America, Core Value 2: Symbolic Patriotism

January 28, 2014

By: Wayne Baker

Originally posted on Our Values

This evening, President Obama delivers his State of the Union address, the fifth time he has done so. One thing we’ll see is a display of American symbols—the flag aplenty, the elaborate protocol of the president’s invitation and entry into the House of Representatives, and more.

How do you feel when you see these American symbols and rituals? Does seeing “Old Glory” stir your blood? Does hearing the national anthem do the same? Almost all Americans have positive feelings when they see the flag or hear the anthem. This is an emotional connection to country, a form of patriotism, and it is one of the 10 core values I document in my new book, United America.

In an interview this week, I describe how this new book was developed and the vital role OurValues.org played in my research on civil dialogue. Today, we continue the overview of the 10 values.

Core Value 2: “Symbolic patriotism”—as we say in the chart of values, this one means “An emotional connection to country; feeling good when seeing the American flag or hearing the national anthem.”

Love of American symbols is one way that Americans feel connected to one another in our vast, diverse, multicultural society. And, it’s a rather unique form of patriotism. Foreign visitors are often struck (and puzzled) by how often they see American symbols. The French intellectual Bernard-Henri Levy observed this when he followed in the footsteps of his countryman, Alexis de Tocqueville. In an article published in The Atlantic, he said:

“One is struck by the omnipresence of the Star-Spangled Banner, even on the T-shirts of the kids who come to watch the sumo wrestlers as the little crowd cheers them on. It’s the flag of the American cavalry in westerns. It’s the flag of Frank Capra movies. It’s the fetish that is there, in the frame, every time the American president appears.”

So, what is the state of our union? Today, we hear Obama’s version. Gallup presents its own “Stats of the Union,” timed to coincide with the presidential event. In it, Gallup shows that most indicators are better now than they were in 2009. For example, more people are satisfied with the way things are going and are more confident in the economy. More people say they are “thriving” now than in 2009. Fewer are worrying a lot. The most important problem now is the “government,” while the most important problem in 2009 was the “economy.”

Do you love American symbols?

What is your assessment of the State—and the Stats—of our nation?