Discover more from The Liberal Patriot
TL(PM) DIGEST: American Patriotism Hasn't Cratered Just Yet
Plus another mass shooting in Nashville, a new U.S.-Japan deal on critical minerals, and the perils of "nostalgia economics"
1. American patriotism probably has not gone down the gutter
What happened? Political circles are abuzz with talk of a new Wall Street Journal/NORC poll purporting to show a massive decline in patriotism among Americans, along with other declines in the importance of traditional values such as religion, having children, and community involvement. The poll shows the percentage of Americans saying patriotism is very important to them has apparently dropped from 70 percent in 1998 to 38 percent in 2023—a 32-point decline in the past 25 years.
Why does it matter? Hold on a second—polling shifts of this nature usually mask some change in methodology or question wording rather than portray a genuine change in attitudes or beliefs. The Wall Street Journal and NORC do great polling. But as Patrick Ruffini rightly notes, the paper’s shift from traditional telephone polling in the past to an online sample today almost certainly contributed to these results. Why? Survey modes matter in terms of measuring shifts and people are much more honest in online polls than they are when speaking to someone on the phone. So it’s probably best to just analyze the new results in the WSJ poll on their own rather than get distracted by seemingly huge shifts.
TLP’s take: In any case, we should be wary of sweeping ideological explanations for American’s supposedly wayward values. Other polling from Gallup using the same methodology across surveys shows a genuine but not precipitous erosion in pride in America over the past two decades—from an extreme high of nearly 90 percent after 9/11 to about two-thirds today. Patriotism means different things to Americans, and there are reasons people might get down on America: the country has taken a lot of knocks in the past decade and many people rightly worry about the future in terms of economic stability and individual opportunities. But all in all, most Americans take pride in their country and want to see our nation—and all our people—do well.
2. More sectarian politics in the wake of another tragic school attack
What happened? A heavily armed former student of the Covenant School in Nashville, Tennessee, Audrey E. Hale, shot and killed three children and three adults yesterday. This is the 12th school shooting of 2023 that’s resulted in deaths or injuries, according to data from Education Week. Hale was killed by police and law enforcement officials continue to search for the exact motives and planning for this shooting.
Why does it matter? As seems to be the case with nearly every mass shooting incident in America these days, ideologues across the political spectrum rushed to explain the shooting through the lens of their own preoccupations. Those on the political left talked mainly about gun violence and unregulated AR-15s while those on the political right talked mainly about the shooter’s apparent transgender identity and hostility to Christians.
TLP’s take: Instead of framing perpetrators and victims in a politically expedient manner, America’s political class could show some maturity and leadership. They should calm down a bit and figure out how exactly state and federal laws can address the complicated confluence of widely available military-grade weapons, mental illness, social radicalization, and unprotected public targets. Determine why public officials and law enforcement continually miss signs that deranged and violent people might be on the verge of killing innocent kids and school staff—and take steps to stop it from happening again.
3. The U.S. and Japan strike a deal on critical minerals for batteries
What happened? U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai signed a bilateral agreement with Japan that will remove both countries’ tariffs on critical minerals like lithium, cobalt, and nickel used to make batteries for electric vehicles. The deal will likely allow electric vehicles with batteries made in Japan to qualify for U.S. clean energy and manufacturing subsidies under the terms of the Inflation Reduction Act. Talks are already underway for a similar deal with the European Union.
Why does it matter? Critical minerals are crucial for making batteries that power electric vehicles, and right now China has the market cornered on the mining and reprocessing of these minerals. The Inflation Reduction Act aimed to reduce America’s dependence on Beijing by requiring American sourcing for batteries in order for EVs to qualify for the law’s tax breaks—with the unintended effect of boxing out EVs made by American allies in Asia and Europe from the U.S. market.
TLP’s take: This deal represents an important, concrete step toward resolving the diplomatic challenges created by the IRA and begins laying the foundation for a more ambitious international industrial policy—it’s friendshoring in action. But it’s still a first step, and it’s not yet clear how it fits into the big picture of America’s new approach to international economic policy. It’s another indication that the Biden administration needs to better connect its foreign and domestic policies in both rhetoric and in substance.
4. The trouble with “nostalgia economics”
What happened? Riffing off a recurrent meme that things were better economically in the good old days of the 1950s, Substacker Matt Yglesias argues that things were not, in fact, materially better back then—fewer than two in ten Americans had a washing machine in 1950, for instance, and just two percent had a dishwasher. Instead, it’s the rate of progress and rapid improvement in people’s standards of living accounts for much of the rose-colored nostalgia for the post-war economy.
Why does it matter? Since the 1970s, Yglesias notes, material progress seems to have plateaued and a number of laws like the National Environmental Policy Act have been put in place to stop new stuff from getting built. That may not have been the intent of these laws, but it’s certainly been the effect. The end result is that it feels like America has stagnated in recent decades despite improvements in material living standards. Nor are advances in computing and artificial intelligence likely to change the picture—unlike nuclear power, space exploration, or supersonic transport, it’s unclear what exactly a lot of these information technologies are supposed to accomplish.
TLP’s take: In his famous Four Freedoms speech in 1941, FDR called “the enjoyment of the fruits of scientific progress in a wider and constantly rising standard of living” one of the basic things Americans and people around the world expected from their political and economic systems. It’s that expectation that drives “nostalgia economics,” one that Yglesias correctly observes can fulfilled by removing self-imposed restrictions on our ability to build new things and enjoy the abundant fruits of scientific progress in the real world. Rather than pining for a misremembered past, we ought to build the future.
Just one more thing…
All this talk of patriotism reminds us of good ol’ Staff Sergeant Johnny Cash—one of many famous artists who served in the American military. Cash not only played legendary shows at Folsom and San Quentin prisons—he also was the first American to find out that Joseph Stalin had died! Johnny Cash—the original Patriot in Black.