Why are Americans proud to be Americans?

September 29, 2006 | By | 2 Replies More

Ask most Americans, and they will say they are proud to be Americans.  They might not be proud of its current government, but they will say they are proud to be Americans.

But what, exactly, does this mean?

Pride is usually something that is earned by accomplishing a goal:  I’m sure we can all think of people who are proud to have graduated college, proud to have earned a promotion at work, proud to have raised good kids, proud to have made a positive difference in someone else’s life, etc.

But what does it mean when someone says he is “proud to be an American” — something he achieved not by accomplishing anything, but simply by the circumstance of being born in America?  To some extent, Americans can claim they are “proud to be an American” because they have helped accomplish the goal of creating the nation we see today, which, despite its many flaws, has many good qualities.  Nevertheless, do Americans actually think about this when they say they are “proud to be an American,” or are they merely gloating about their nationality — something they did nothing to earn and, indeed, had nothing to do with?

The next time you hear someone say he is “proud to be an American,” ask him what he means.  See if he mentions anything that he actually accomplished.


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About the Author ()

Grumpypilgrim is a writer and management consultant living in Madison, WI. He has several scientific degrees, including a recent master’s degree from MIT. He has also held several professional career positions, none of which has been in a field in which he ever took a university course. Grumps is an avid cyclist and, for many years now, has traveled more annual miles by bicycle than by car…and he wishes more people (for the health of both themselves and our planet) would do the same. Grumps is an enthusiastic advocate of life-long learning, healthy living and political awareness. He is single, and provides a loving home for abused and abandoned bicycles. Grumpy’s email: grumpypilgrim(AT)@gmail(DOT).com [Erich’s note: Grumpy asked that his email be encrypted this way to deter spam. If you want to write to him, drop out the parentheticals in the above address].

Comments (2)

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  1. Erich Vieth says:

    Here’s a relevant TV reference from Seinfeld:

    We’re a little too into sports in this country, I think we gotta throttle back. Know what I mean? People come home from these games, “We won! We won!” No, they won – you watched.

    I think what drives much national pride these days is the accomplishments of others. We are vicariously proud.  After all, most people I know work jobs mostly for the salary or the intellectual challenges, not because they feel they are making the world a better place. After work, they pursue their hobbies and amusements. What could most people be proud of, then? That their boss is happy and that they haven't been fired? That they sat there watching their city's sports team win a few games? That they haven't been arrested? That they usually pay their bills on time? That they put food on the table for their children and usually get them off to school on time? That they wave the flag and sing the Star Spangled Banner? That they send Hallmark cards out to mark occasions? Essentially, most people (I'm not excepting myself) are successful consumers of material goods. A low bar, indeed in a society-of-plenty!

    I think that many Americans who are "proud" are mostly living vicariously, imagining that it is THEY that hoisted that flag on Iwo Jima or that is THEY that smacked that home run with two out in the ninth.

    I hate to sound so cynical. There are, after all, many exceptions to this rule.  There are some people who are proud to be Americans based upon significant personal accomplishments that actually made our COUNTRY a better place. 

    Your post rang true for me. For most of us, National Pride is not based on a personal contribution to the good of our nation. It's something else.  It's another one of the many ways in which we claim that we've accomplished something when we've actually accomplished nothing of significance.

  2. Dan Klarmann says:

    I looked at the Seinfeld transcript, and all I could think of were the previous posts about fungible time and television addiction.

    As for Pride in America: My parents each came over here with nothing and worked hard to become citizens. I was a citizen for 9 years before they got "naturalized"! Wouldn't it be nice if everyone had to either pass those citizenship tests or do military service in order to be eligible to vote or receive government aid? Maybe that would be a source of pride in citizenship.

    I vote, I do jury duty every year or so, I co-captain my urban block unit to help keep the crime and other detrimental social forces under control locally. I (reluctantly) registered for selective service when it was required under the Carter administration. Other than that, and posting my random musings where Google can find them, I don't do much to earn a feeling of pride of country.

    Sure, I believe that we are still #1. Sort of. We are about 30th in math and science education. We are one of the 3 holdouts among U.N. nations who refuse to go metric. We export coal, oil, metals, and timber and import finished goods (an old definition of a 3rd world country), and we have more non-violent offenders in prison per capita than China.

    I'm grateful to be an American, but I'm not sure if "proud" works for me.

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