For such a seemingly straightforward concept, patriotism in America sure carries a lot of emotional baggage, a whole steamer trunk, actually, freighted with charges and recriminations and finely delineated gradations of the term.
Distilled to a core definition – Merriam-Webster says it’s “love that people feel for their country” – patriotism may sound precise and unassailable, but in modern vernacular remains abstract, a veritable ideological Rorschach test. Are we only patriotic if we wear a lapel flag pin and lustily belt out lyrics to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to Be an American” while swigging a domestic brew? Or are we only patriotic if we slap a “Question Authority” sticker on our Prius’ bumper and lustily chant “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” while quaffing whatever brand of beer we like?
Commentators as diametrically opposed as Bill O’Reilly and Noam Chomsky have been equally strident in their interpretations of patriotism. On the right, it’s an unconditional acceptance of American exceptionalism; on the left, it is, to quote historian Howard Zinn, “supporting your government when you think it’s doing right (and) opposing your government when you think it’s doing wrong.” Yet, right and wrong can be relative, no? The same patriotism that spawned victory gardens in World War II gave us the McCarthy hearings only a few years hence.
In these contentious days, in which families, communities and states seem more divided than ever following recent Supreme Court rulings regarding gay marriage and the Affordable Care Act, many a copacetic Fourth of July barbecue might be spoiled by clashes in the patriotic breach. Perhaps it’s best, then, to calmly flip the burgers, stock both Budweiser and Modelo Especial and keep in mind Mark Twain’s definition of a patriot: “The person who can holler the loudest without knowing what he’s talking about.”
July 4: By the numbers
239: Age the United States will turn on July 4, 2015.
1826: Year that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams both died – on the same day, July 4 – 50 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
1: Number of signers of the Declaration of Independence who later recanted. (Richard Stockton of New Jersey was being held prisoner by the British.)
71: Percentage of Americans who say they think the signers of the Declaration of Independence would be disappointed with the way the United States has turned out.
1870: Year when July 4 became a federal holiday.
40,000-plus: Number of fireworks used in Macy’s Fourth of July show in New York City, the largest display in the country.
200: Average number of Americans who go to the emergency room per day for fireworks injuries from June 17 to July 17.
10,500: Estimated number of injuries from fireworks in 2014.
68: Percentage of people injured by fireworks who are male.
$369.4 million: Value of fireworks sold by American retailers in 2012.
$1.7 billion: Amount that Americans spent on beer for July 4, 2014.
20 billion: Estimated number of hot dogs consumed annually in the United States.
33.3: Percentage of the hot dogs produced in the U.S. that come from Iowa.
62: Percentage of Americans who say they display an American flag at home, at their office or on their car.
$3.5 million: Value of American flags imported from China annually. (Total value of all imported American flags is $3.6 million.)
59: Number of counties and census places in the U.S. with “Liberty” in their name.
2.5 million: Estimated population in the U.S. in July 1776.
321.2 million: Estimated population in the U.S. in July 2015.
Sources: America’s Library, Cititour.com, History.com, Gallup, National Hot Dog and Sausage Council, Nielsen, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, U.S. Economic Census.
Local voices on patriotism
“I’m proud that we’re a country that lets other people in. We’re a nation of immigrants.”
Jill Michel, Sacramento
“On the Fourth of July ... I usually turn to thoughts of my father. He was an immigrant to America as a young adult. He never quite lost his foreign accent, but he was the epitome of a concerned, committed and compassionate American; he loved his birth heritage, but he was American first. We sang his favorite song, ‘America the Beautiful,’ as we spread his ashes. These are difficult times in America, but I would choose no other citizenship than the U.S.A. Independence Day is a time to reflect on what we have.”
Erik Smitt, Sacramento
“I’m proud that we accept we’re a country that still needs to change so much to keep being the greatest nation on Earth, even if (change) is happening slowly.”
Julie Sims, Newcastle
“I think it’s wonderful that we can agree to disagree and still accept that (gay marriage) is the law now.”
Steve Johnson, El Dorado Hills
“I believe, personally, that ultimately the essence of the United States is inclusiveness, and by extending basic civil rights like marriage, and insuring access of basic human needs like health care to more and more people, that will simply improve America in the long run.”
Don Sizemore, Sacramento
“(I’m proud) we can trust our soldiers. Our troops do phenomenal work.”
Carl Chang, Sacramento
“(America) really is one place where there is upward mobility based on merit and hard work.”
Patricia Rivard, Sacramento