Our generation doesn’t like being American. In fact, the feeling we most commonly associate with being American is—shame. We ridicule schools that begin each morning with the Pledge of Allegiance. We mockingly shout, “’Murica,” to imitate people who flaunt their American pride.
But if patriotism is not “in” with our crowd, we can tell you why.
Our only experiences with presidential elections have been characterized by abnormality. Our understanding of the electoral process includes violence, extreme partisanship, and distrust of the system. We have never participated in a civilized, peaceful election and transfer of power. As far as we know, the voting process is hectic, the poll predictions are completely wrong, the two candidates want each other dead, and no one trusts anyone else, not the media’s “fake news” or the electoral system itself. Bipartisanship seems like a fairy tale to us. We understand politics as life and death, good versus evil.
We’re more politicized than ever. We’ll unfollow anyone who’s voting against us. “Election anxiety” is the only thing we all have in common.
We see the adults meant to lead and represent our country fighting on TV like teenage boys in the principal’s office. We see one news channel trash talking another like they’re having petty middle school drama. We’re barely adults ourselves, and we feel more mature than everyone we’re supposed to look up to.
It seems as if a seventeen-year-old Swedish girl is the only individual concerned about our deteriorating climate—and ours is the only generation concerned with the climate at all. Yet the crisis is so dire that we may not live through it. In fact, we can’t even remember a time when the climate wasn’t in crisis.
Our schools teach us that the humans who came before us, the older generations, caused this environmental disaster. We learn that we were handed this crisis by our elders. Yet those same elders seem unconcerned about fixing it.
Our leaders seem to be failing us. The system seems to be failing us. In an America like this, there isn’t much justification for patriotism.
The first presidential election we can really remember elected the first black president of the United States. It seemed that the glass ceiling had been broken: Racism in America had officially begun to diminish. In the second election we remember, he was reelected, reinforcing our understanding that racism in America was being addressed and quashed. Though racism was still alive, our leader was making strides in combatting it. We were optimistic and hopeful.
However, the next President proved us very wrong. Obama was black; Trump sympathized with white supremacists. We saw the transition from ameliorating race relations to the country’s most contentious and violent race relations in a decade.
Election night, as we watched the blue and red numbers go up, down, and up again in a race that was very, very close, we were reminded that the contention and violence are not nearly over. We have only known a torn, partisan, polarized America that seems to be tearing itself apart more every day. We hesitate to love our country because our country does not seem to love us.
But if patriotism is not “in” with our crowd, political involvement certainly is. Despite the pandemic, voter turnout in 2020 broke a century-old record, including a very strong showing by eighteen to twenty-nine year olds. We may lack pride in our country, but we haven’t given up on trying to improve it. We may not love America today, but we hope to love her soon.
Emma Cordover is a rising junior at Cornell University and an intern at American Purpose. Sophia Vahanvaty is a freshman at Stanford University and an intern at American Purpose. Robert Bork III is assistant editor of American Purpose.
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