The nation’s original politicians — the Founding Fathers — rank near the top of a list of things Americans say symbolize the best about the United States.
The absolute worst?
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A new USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll about patriotism, pegged to this week’s celebration of the Fourth of July, finds an overwhelming majority of those surveyed say they are proud to be Americans. But they split almost down the middle, 42 percent to 39 percent, when asked whether they are proud of America right now.
This year, a holiday that is designed as a moment of national unity also underscores the country’s deep divisions and the broad dissatisfaction with its government. A long-term trend toward partisanship and the super-heated presidency of Donald Trump have sharpened a debate over what defines America and what it means to be patriotic.
“This is a very difficult time,” says Daniel Kugler, 66, a federal worker from Washington, D.C., who was among those polled. “There’s not the norms that used to hold; they are not holding anymore.” He worries about “a slide toward a totalitarian situation” in which Congress and others are afraid to speak up against President Trump.
Tracy Lish, 54, a truck driver from Pocatello, Idaho, says the threat is from liberals. “They’ve twisted American values,” she said in a follow-up phone interview. “A lot of them are anti-God, anti-religion and anti-military.”
In the survey, most say they are proud to be Americans, although Republicans feel that way more strongly (90 percent) than Democrats (61 percent). There is no consensus when asked about the country’s current course, though: 71 percent of Republicans but just 22 percent of Democrats said they are proud of America right now.
The USA TODAY/Ipsos Poll of 1,004 adults, taken online June 26-27, has a credibility interval of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points. The survey is one of a year-long series on American values.
On immigration and other issues, there is tension between competing American values. “Having secure borders” gets a relatively high mean rating of 4.8 on a scale of one to seven. One is the worst; seven the best. But “welcoming immigrants and refugees” has a rating that was only a bit lower, at 4.3.
Republicans are more likely to rate secure borders as a strong value; Democrats are more likely to rate welcoming immigrants and refugees as a strong value.
In follow-up interviews, there was angst over the Trump administration policy, now modified, of separating children from their parents when they cross the border illegally. “There’s always been immigrants; that’s what this country is,” says Kimberly Bainter, 29, of Norfolk, Virginia. The United States has become “less welcoming” than it used to be, says Harry Bridgen, 56, a band manager from Studio City, California, adding, “How scared and alone these children must feel.”
Hundreds of thousands rallied across the country Saturday to protest the immigration policy that resulted in more than 2,000 children separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border. In an interview broadcast Sunday, Trump predicted that Democrats will be “beaten so badly” in future elections if they propose abolishing the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, an idea endorsed by some progressives.
In the poll:
- Republicans by 3-1 agree that “America needs a strong leader willing to break the rules.” Democrats disagree with that statement by more than 2-1.
- Democrats by 20-1 agree that “the American economy is rigged to advantage the rich and powerful.” Republicans narrowly agree.
- Republicans by 20-1 agree that “the mainstream media is more interested in making money than telling the truth.” Democrats agree with the statement, too, though by a narrower 5-3.
- Overwhelming majorities of those in both parties and independents agree that “traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like me.” That includes two-thirds of Republicans even though the GOP now controls the White House and both houses of Congress.
Dissatisfaction with the state of American politics is the strongest thread in the survey. Asked what symbolizes the worst of America, “politicians” leads the field. That sentiment crosses party lines, although there is a predictable partisan divide about the standing of individual politicians. Democrats rate Trump as symbolizing the worst single thing about America; Republicans say he represents one of the better things about the country. Republicans rate House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi as among the worst; Democrats rank her about in the middle.
Among the five elected officials on the list, the one who receives the highest overall ranking for symbolizing what is best about America is Arizona Sen. John McCain, a six-term senator and former Vietnam war POW now battling brain cancer. He is a Republican but received a slightly higher rating from Democrats than from those in the GOP.
Respect for those in the armed forces crosses party lines. “People who serve in the military to me are the epitome of patriotism,” says Beth Blumental, 63, of Hatboro, Pennsylvania, a Trump critic. Tracy Lish, a Trump defender, uses similar words. “Anybody serving our country, they’re true patriots,” she says.
Kugler calls Warren Buffett, the billionaire businessman and philanthropist, a patriot. “He’s a hero, because he doesn’t think of policy in ‘what’s good for rich people like me.’ He understands that there’s value in other people.”
Bridgen, the band manager from California, sees patriotism in protest. “I think that anyone willing to stand up for what’s right and trying to make changes to improve things is a patriot,” he says.
The most highly regarded profession are nurses, followed closely by school teachers.
The most highly regarded national value is kindness to strangers, followed by speaking English and believing in God. The value rated as symbolizing the worst about America is political correctness.
Republicans give a particularly positive rating to “standing at attention when the president is in the room.” Democrats give nearly as high a rating to “protesting the government.”
That said, there is bipartisan agreement on this: The news these days is exhausting. Across party lines, roughly seven in 10 agree with the statement, “I feel fatigued watching the news.”
“I don’t know if tired is the right word, but fed up,” says Beth Blumenthal, a retired educator. “I get tired of hearing the same thing over and over again. This one’s no good and that one’s no good … and nothing seems to get solved.”