You can love your country and still feel disappointment

Regarding that Wall Street Journal poll that Michael sees as grim affirmation, Patrick Ruffini notes, “the dramatically different results we see from 2019 and 2023 are because the data was collected differently. The March 2023 survey was collected via NORC’s Amerispeak, an extremely high-quality online panel. In the fine print below the chart, we can see that data from previous waves was collected via telephone survey.”

Ruffini continues:

Survey mode still matters. Surveying the exact same types of respondents online and over the phone will yield different results. And it matters most for exactly the kinds of values questions that the Journal asked in its survey.

The basic idea is this: if I’m speaking to another human being over the phone, I am much more likely to answer in ways that make me look like an upstanding citizen, one who is patriotic and values community involvement. My answers to the same questions online will probably be more honest, since the format is impersonal and anonymous. So, the 2023 survey probably does a better job at revealing the true state of patriotism, religiosity, community involvement, and so forth. The problem is that the data from previous waves were inflated by social desirability bias—and can’t be trended with the current data to generate a neat-and-tidy viral chart like this.

I would also note that the chart that is going viral illustrates the dramatic drop in the percentage of respondents who said that certain values were “very important.” You’re not going to get any argument from me that this is not bad news. But the poll gave respondents four categories: “very important,” “somewhat important,” “not that important” or “not important at all.” And when you look at the numbers for all four categories, the decline in importance appears much more modest.

If you look at the full poll results, you see that “hard work” and “tolerance for others” still score at or above 90 percent when “very important” and “somewhat important” are put together, and less than 10 percent score those values as “not that important” or “not important at all.”

“Community involvement” is rated as either “very important” or “somewhat important” by 80 percent; patriotism is rated as either “very important” or “somewhat important” by 73 percent; marriage is rated as either “very important” or “somewhat important” by 70 percent, and having children is rated as either “very important” or “somewhat important” by 65 percent.

Would I prefer to see those numbers higher? Sure. But the most accurate characterization of this survey is that values that scored “very important” among many respondents a few years ago are now often scored “somewhat important.” Again, this development is not good news, but it’s also not the catastrophic, sudden drop-off that the chart implies.

I also can’t get that irked or disappointed by an American who feels less patriotism or has more mixed feelings about their country now compared to 2019. You can love your country and still feel disappointment, frustration or even anger with it, your country’s leadership, and your fellow citizens.

If you’re on the right, you’ve seen a virus shut down your country, shut down businesses, and keep kids out of school for at least a year in many communities, resulting in lingering learning loss. You’ve seen idiot governors lock down nursing homes and assisted living facilities, trapping those most vulnerable to the virus inside with the virus, and put America’s elderly into de facto solitary confinement. The pandemic turned all kinds of citizens turned into finger-wagging hall-monitors about how you were wearing your mask, and we followed that up with a cultural war about getting vaccinated. Getting together with anyone for any reason was considered killing grandma and reopening a barber shop was an “experiment in human sacrifice,” but if you decided to attend a protest over the killing of George Floyd, gathering in large groups was just fine. You’ve seen cities become crime-ridden and certain voices on the left shrug it off and describe getting robbed or mugged as just “basic city life experiences.” You’ve seen teachers boasting on TikTok about how they’re indoctrinating elementary school students with left-wing  ideology and inappropriate sexual material. You’ve seen mass shootings of every kind and law-abiding gun owners turn into scapegoats for a widespread mental health crisis. And in the face of this crisis, the country turned the keys over to doddering old Joe Biden, who is prone to rambling about his favorite ice cream at any given moment. You’ve seen the border insecure, with the president dismissing it as just a “seasonal pattern.” Oh, and you’ve seen large swaths of your fellow countrymen almost afraid to ask serious questions about how the whole pandemic started.

If you’re on the left, it’s all of the above in the reverse. You’ve seen the crisis of the pandemic exacerbated by those who refused to abide by social distancing and who refused to wear their masks. You’ve seen the president insist he won an election that he lost, and the president’s surrogates offer nonsensical conspiracy theories that the election results were hacked by the Venezuelans. You’ve seen the galling violence and national embarrassment of January 6. You’ve seen Republicans not only refuse to impeach the president but come around to making excuses for him. You’ve seen a significant chunk of the Republican party base insist that Donald Trump did nothing wrong. You’ve seen mass shootings of every kind and watched gun owners and Republican politicians refuse to enact widespread gun control. You’ve seen Elon Musk take over Twitter, Donald Trump dine with Nick Fuentes, Kanye West reveal himself as a rabid anti-Semite. (I would have said “West was unveiled as an anti-Semite,” but Kanye was wearing a veil while he was saying this vile stuff.)

Americans left, right and center have seen hate crimes rise, school test scores collapse, and federal spending explode. Both the left and right have seen a horrifying surge in fentanyl overdoses and other drug addictions. They’ve seen a social media network that is Chinese government spyware become immensely popular among young people. They’ve seen efforts at deterring Vladimir Putin fail, and Russia launch the largest land war in Europe since World War Two, with far-reaching effects on the global energy and food markets.

Americans have plenty of reasons to be frustrated with the state of the country. I would argue that doesn’t mean patriotism isn’t important anymore, but that I can’t begrudge someone for feeling exasperated with how the country has dealt with challenges since 2019.

Oh, and if the survey indicates that more Americans rate money as “very important,” well, we’ve just lived through a massive economic dislocation because of the pandemic, supply chain problems, runaway inflation, five-dollar-per-gallon national average for a gallon of gasoline, jaw-dropping grocery bills and a couple of high profile bank failures. I think it’s entirely reasonable for Americans to be more concerned about money than they were a few years ago.