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?