We Hold These Truths to be Self-Evident…
Most Americans rightly remain proud of their country, even as they recognize its deficits.
Tomorrow, the United States will celebrate its 247th birthday. As millions of Americans congregate with loved ones to fire up the grills, watch fireworks, and engage in festive displays of patriotism, many of us will likely take time to reflect on our country and its history.
To be sure, that history is a complicated one. It has included darker times, from slavery and Jim Crow to the Vietnam and Iraq wars to periods of nativism and exclusion. But it has also often lived up to its founding ideals as a liberal democracy, such as winning hard-fought battles to end slavery and racial discrimination, helping liberate Europe and Asia from Nazi and Imperial Japanese rule, pushing forward scientific discovery and technological progress, and welcoming millions of immigrants to our shores every year.
Indeed, it’s the country’s ability to learn from its mistakes and improve itself that has long made Americans of all backgrounds proud to live here. One group, however, has been a constant outlier in holding more pessimistic views of America: political progressives.
I was reminded of this a couple months ago when I was out to dinner with a friend whose politics are quite liberal. At some point in the evening, they asked, skeptically, “What good qualities would you say America even has?” If you’ve ever spent time in progressive circles, you may have come across some variation of this question or heard views that, at best, cast doubt on the idea that America has many—or any—redeeming qualities.
These sentiments are not new. A 2014 Pew survey found that the lone ideological group in which a minority said they often felt proud to be American was “solid liberals.” This group’s feelings about their country seemed to grow worse after Donald Trump won the presidency and have persisted since he left office:
In an October 2018 report from the Hidden Tribes project, those identified as “progressive activists” were nearly three times more likely than the average person to say they were “ashamed to be an American.”
A December 2020 survey from More In Common, the group behind the Hidden Tribes report, found that a majority of Americans—including a majority of people in nearly every demographic category—said they were “proud to be American.” The one exception? Progressive activists, just one-third of whom agreed with that sentiment.
A 2021 Pew survey showed that less than a quarter of all Americans—including a fairly small share of traditional liberals—believed that “there are other countries that are better than the U.S.” But among those on the “progressive left,” fully 75 percent supported that statement.
A June 2022 Echelon Insights poll found that “strong progressives” disagreed with the idea that America is “the greatest country in the world” by a margin of 66 to 28. Other than a slight majority of Gen Z, these progressives were the only group across age, race, gender, ideology, and political party to hold this view. On the whole, two-thirds of the country (67 percent) agreed with that statement.
In another More In Common survey from last July, fully three-quarters (76 percent) of Americans said that American identity was important to them. Again, majorities of every ideological sub-group agreed—except for progressive activists, just 35 percent of whom embraced being American as part of their identity. This cohort was also the only one in which a majority disagreed that “a story of duty, honor, and service to the nation” described their family’s experience in America.
It is perfectly normal for citizens of any country to grow frustrated at times, and there has been plenty for Americans to be distressed about in recent years. Over just the past two decades, the country has endured two wars, a recession, the rise of a reactionary right wing, a once-in-a-century pandemic, racial unrest, an insurrection, inflation, threats to abortion rights, rising crime and gun violence, and feverish culture war fights over race and gender.
At some point, though, frustration with the country’s blemishes—if divorced from a recognition of its enduring virtues—risks sliding into outright antipathy and self-hatred. We can see this by some on the far left who have attempted to rewrite the story of America’s founding, arguing that it was not the values set forth in 1776 in the Declaration of Independence that have guided us for the past two-and-a-half centuries but rather the nation’s original sin of slavery, which began in 1619 when the first ships transporting African slaves arrived on our shores. The conscious effort to re-tell the story of America in this way demonstrates a level of cynicism that simply doesn’t resonate with most Americans.
If they persist, such pessimistic views could lead to headaches for America’s left-of-center party, the Democrats: though significant majorities of the country do want public schools to teach a full accounting of U.S. history, including the less admirable parts, recent surveys show that at least two-thirds of Americans are also proud of their country. In politics, it’s a good bet that you won’t have much success if voters perceive your party to be the one disavowing patriotism and looking down on those who embrace it.
Importantly, many Democrats don’t hold such lousy views of America. In several of the above surveys, other left-of-center ideological blocs were far less cynical about their country than the loudest and most strident progressives were. We also don’t have to reach far back to find Democratic presidents talking proudly about their country.
Additionally, it’s not as though Republicans are clearly owning patriotism these days either, as they struggle with their own fidelity to America’s constitutional values. This gives Democrats an opening to reclaim these issues. In addition to encouraging Americans to learn from their past, there are a number of things the party can actively celebrate that align with both their values and the founders’ vision for the country:
First Amendment protections. It may seem obvious, but protections for speech, worship, journalism, protest, and lobbying one’s government are a core part of what makes America great. Governments all around the world often trample on these rights with impunity, and even other Western democracies don’t always guarantee the same robust speech protections as the United States. Some on the left have lost their way on these issues in recent years, but protecting freedom of speech and protest are especially vital for minority groups to ensure their voices can be heard—something progressives should celebrate.
Immigrant culture. Since the country’s founding, we have been a nation of immigrants. As of 2023, more immigrants lived in the United States than in any other country by a long shot, a sign of America’s enduring allure to people around the world searching for a better life; we also harbor more refugees than any other western democracy. Moreover, several studies have found that America is among the most welcoming countries for immigrants and refugees. Despite our at times troubled past on these matters, we have remained committed to our original promise to be a destination for the “tired…poor…huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.” That is something to be proud of.
Diversity & racial progress. As the country has attracted people from all around the world, it has naturally become more diverse. Rates of interracial marriage have gone up exponentially over the past half-century, as has public approval of such marriages. This, again, is a testament to the American experiment: our young country has strived to become the first large and enduring multiracial democracy ever. Unlike most other societies throughout history and contrary to the claims of some progressives, the U.S. was not founded on the basis of some shared trait like race, ethnicity, language, religion, or geography. Rather, we were founded on an idea, leaving open the door to people of all backgrounds and identities coexisting here. Even though it has sometimes happened in fits and starts, we have regularly overcome racial and ethnic strife and become a more tolerant nation.
Of course, no country is perfect. There is plenty of work to do to make life better for millions of our fellow countrymen and women. But, as former President Bill Clinton famously said, there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America. That has proven to be the case time and again.
This July 4, those who possess a fatalist outlook about America would do well to remember that patriotism isn’t a call for blind conformity or refusal to criticize your government. It’s a sincere belief that we should hold our country to the highest of standards, criticizing it when it messes up but also forthrightly celebrating it when it gets things right.
As an American icon, Mark Twain, once put it, “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.”
Michael Baharaeen is the director of political research at Blue Compass Strategies. He is a native of Kansas City and writes the Checks and Balances newsletter on Substack.
 This data is from mid-2021 and does not account for the Ukraine refugee crisis that began in 2022, but the only other western democracy whose refugee totals in 2021 came close to America’s was Germany.