Palin’s Pride

by Mark T. Mitchell on February 8, 2010 · 10 comments <span>Print this article</span> Print this article

in Short

Sarah Palin delivered the key-note address at the Tea Party Convention in Nashville on Saturday. Apart from the dust up over crib notes scrawled on her hand, I was struck by her opening. To a raucous crowd she gushed “I am so proud to be an American!” Lots of cheers. But here’s my question: what does it mean to be proud to be an American? The phrase is permanently etched into our brains by the Lee Greenwood song, and it’s a commonplace in our political rhetoric, but I wonder. It seems proper to say “I’m glad to be an American.” It seems even more correct to say “I am grateful to be an American.” But what do we mean when we say we’re proud of the fact? Is it a boast? Are we behaving like Little Jack Horner who pulls out a plum and congratulates himself? On one level, national pride may be analogous to the pride someone feels when his sports team wins: national pride is team pride on the field of international politics. But is there a danger? Can national pride create national blind spots as pride is so wont to do? When national pride is mixed with the language of religion, it doesn’t take long for pride to appear perfectly justified by virtue of the special place we have in God’s eye.

Pride is a dangerous thing wherever it is found. Gratitude reminds us of our limits. It reminds us that the good things we enjoy are blessings from God. What would a politics of gratitude look like?

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar Brian McKay February 8, 2010 at 2:35 pm

I guess that we’ll never see what such politics of gratitude would look like while lobbyists, campaign donor$, politicians and parties jockey for influence. I’d like people to look at extreme poverty, suffering and politicians’ graft in Haiti, Mexico, Philippines and elsewhere to see how fortunate we are to be born here…

avatar Bruce Smith February 8, 2010 at 5:17 pm

Gratitude would be recognizing that the superorganism called America is delivering well on physical and psychological survival needs for all its members, in the least harmful way to its environment and those living in other countries.

avatar Katherine T February 8, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Dr. Mitchell,

I’m not at all against a politics of gratitude (and I would even enjoy reading a book on that topic:), but I wonder if pride really is a “dangerous thing wherever it is found.” Doesn’t St. Paul frequently boast about those who have believed the gospel he preached? And don’t we smile in appreciation when a father is proud of his son’s hard work?

Ultimately, isn’t “pride in being an American” patriotism, pure and simple? And patriotism is not, it seems, mutually exclusive with limits, contingency, and gratitude.

~Katie

avatar Rob G February 8, 2010 at 8:51 pm

~~Ultimately, isn’t “pride in being an American” patriotism, pure and simple? And patriotism is not, it seems, mutually exclusive with limits, contingency, and gratitude.~~

True enough, but often this type of pride morphs into the sort where we think we’re doing so well that we can do no wrong. It is that kind of thinking, coupled with religious fervor, that created what Robert Penn Warren called the “Treasury of Virtue” in the North during and after the Civil War, and then enabled similar thinking to spread throughout the whole nation during World War I. Holy wars are always dangerous, whether they are military or political.

avatar John Médaille February 8, 2010 at 9:16 pm

The “I’m proud to be an American” line is used rhetorically to suggest dark forces that don’t share the pride, and must be rooted out at all costs. It might be that Mexican in line in front of you at the supermarket (“does he really have papers?”), or the “commie dems,” or anybody else whose vision of America isn’t “yours.” In other words, it means something different from what the words say. Like saying, “I support our troops” when what is meant is, “I support the war (de jour).”

Pride in America, like pride in the troops, doesn’t extend to things like paying her bills, or even paying for the war. And support for the troops will stop when they come back home and want VA benefits. The burdens of citizenship should extend only so far. Citizenship is a right, not a privilege, so why should we grateful for what is ours by right.

So many rights; so little time.

avatar Art Deco February 8, 2010 at 11:27 pm

The “I’m proud to be an American” line is used rhetorically to suggest dark forces that don’t share the pride,

Such forces are real and include most of our domestic intelligentsia and their dependents and hangers-on in the press corps.

and must be rooted out at all costs.

“All costs”, Mr. Medaille? Exactly what costs were imposed on Howard Zinn during his decades-long squat on the piece of real estate known as Boston University?

It might be that Mexican in line in front of you at the supermarket (“does he really have papers?”),

Yes, our immigration laws are vigorously enforced our borders are just hermetically sealed.

or the “commie dems,” or anybody else whose vision of America isn’t “yours.”

Again, who is being ‘rooted out’ from where and with what means?

Pride in America, like pride in the troops, doesn’t extend to things like paying her bills, or even paying for the war.

Why are you accusing her of stiffing her creditors and cheating on her taxes? Are you her accountant?

And support for the troops will stop when they come back home and want VA benefits.

Her son has served in Iraq. Appropriations for medical care delivered by Veterans’ hospitals currently run to $42 bn per annum. Who has advocated cutting this sum, and what reasons did they give?

avatar Mark T. Mitchell February 9, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Hi, Katie. A couple things:
1) That pride is dangerous does not necessarily imply that it is wrong.
2) I think you are right that patriotism of a sort is a good thing. The word, of course, derives from the Latin word for “father.” Patriotism means love for the fatherland. Patriotism in the classical world was infused with a deep sense of solemn duty to protect, preserve, and uphold that which was one’s own by virtue of an inheritance. The patriotism that appears to be the common currency today seems unconcerned with solemn duties and more interested in simply asserting the idea of superiority. Does this change make a difference?

avatar John Willson February 14, 2010 at 8:32 am

John Lukacs, a great historian, and following in the tradition of Carlton J.H. Hayes, one of the greatest historians of the 20th century, makes a crucial distinction between patriotism and nationalism. The former is in the order of creation; it is natural to us in the way that the commandment to “honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee” is natural. To talk about “supporting our troops” (which I do–my granddaughter is an 82nd Airborne Combat Medic, which not one neocon can claim) or “I’m proud to be an American” is dangerous nationalism, just as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is idolatrous nonsense.

avatar Bob Cheeks February 14, 2010 at 1:50 pm

“…just as the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” is idolatrous nonsense.”

Well, Willson, that doesn’t sound like a Yankee consolidator to me and you are exactly correct!

avatar Art Deco February 14, 2010 at 1:51 pm

You have elevated your petty aesthetic preferences about modes of expression to moral principle.

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