Why are America’s poor people so patriotic?

A researcher with evidently Leftist thinking was puzzled by the fact that poor Americans tend to be very patriotic.  He thought they should be rebellious. So he went out and did a bunch of interviews with poor people and asked them why they were patriotic.  Below is the gist of what he found.  Following his findings, I offer some comments:

Why are America’s poor so patriotic? Specifically, what attributes do they ascribe to the United States? How do they think those attributes shape their lives? What are the limitations that they see in other countries that make the United States superior to those countries? And, crucially, how do these Americans reconcile—if they in fact do—their own difficult situation with their positive view of the country? This is a book about what sociologists would call the “narratives” of patriotism among the poor: the conceptual threads, images, stories, and visions that the economically worst-off Americans articulate about their country. It is about their stories and perspectives. It is an effort to investigate, hear, and understand firsthand the logic and reasoning of this particular segment of the American population—a segment that our wealthy and extremely powerful society seems to have forgotten in many ways or to have left behind with little consideration.

Two questions: Why do America’s poor think so highly of their country? How do they reconcile their economic difficulties with their appreciation of their country?

Why are poor Americans so patriotic? The interviews yielded three overarching narratives. First, the people I met shared a firm belief in their country’s promise of hope for every one of its citizens and, indeed, every human being on earth. The American social contract offers to each person deliverance from the ills that have plagued humanity throughout history to this very day. There is something universal and even transcendental about the United States, even if its own history has had troubled moments, with race above all. America’s spirit thus brims with generosity and a readiness to do the right thing in the world. It is an optimistic place, always oriented toward a better future. It is, not coincidentally, also God’s country: from its inception, it has been thought to hold a special place in God’s plans. One need only look at other countries to appreciate the greatness of the United States: most of the interviewees felt that even in the most advanced countries on earth ruthless and arbitrary punishment reigns, and backwardness and poverty deprive their citizens of the essentials for life. America, then, offers incredible hope and, with that, a sense of dignity that no other country can offer. To someone who struggles to end the day fed, clothed, and sheltered, this sense of hope has extraordinary importance.

The second narrative depicted America as the land of milk and honey. The interviewees saw in the United States great wealth, much of it accessible in the form of public goods and services. There are parks, public libraries with free Internet access, electricity, and potable water everywhere. America’s roads, I was told, are paved in gold. The availability of government benefits and private charities helps a great deal. One does not starve in America unless one chooses to. Such abundance of riches makes suffering from very limited resources more bearable. Inequality is not a problem, for anyone can still make it in America: all one has to do is try. Someone is always ready to help, if one is determined to succeed. Indeed, everyone from all over the world wishes to come to this wealthy and beautiful country. With these beliefs in mind, many of the interviewees expressed a sense of contentment. Again, as they told me countless times, all one has to do is look at the deprivations afflicting the poor in other countries. Opportunities are much more limited, people are barely surviving, and economies are depressed. America, then, is the place to be, especially if one has no money.

The third narrative was about freedom. Only in the United States can one truly determine one’s physical and mental existence. This is the basis of the country—its origins and history. One may not have money, but in America one has freedom—and this is the most precious of things. The ability to own guns is central: Guns represent liberty, for the country began with a violent revolution against tyranny. Guns are needed for hunting, too, which is key for feeding oneself and one’s family—something again of great importance if one lacks other resources. We should always remember that such liberty has come at great cost. Generations have served in the military, and this must be honored. In Alabama, the civil rights struggle was especially present in the interviewees’ minds. No other country on earth, I was told, can boast such commitment to freedom. Deprived of much else, such freedom is of the utmost importance to America’s poor. I encountered a fierce and almost instinctive attachment to it. This narrative took on Confederate flavors in Alabama and libertarian tones in Montana.

These were three grand narratives. In many conversations, after discussing these ideas, I pressed the interviewees to reflect on their own situation and life trajectories and asked them directly if they saw no tension between their steadfast belief in America and their own personal situations. Surely, America may be a great, unique country, but did this not contradict their own life experiences? How did they reconcile their love of country with their poverty—their struggles and difficulties?

I discovered that, in a sense, there is no contradiction or puzzle. The interviewees listed four separate reasons. First, everyone deserves what he or she gets: failure is one’s fault, not society’s. Why blame America for one’s bad choices? Second, the future looks brighter already: better things are coming soon, and there is no reason to lose faith in the country. Third, America is founded on the principle that we are all worth the same. Money is only one, and not the most important, metric: in the most fundamental of ways, because of the American social contract, a homeless person is worth as much as the president. There is nothing, in fact, to reconcile. Finally, some of the interviewees recognized that they indeed lack accurate knowledge of other countries: America is all they know, and it is impossible to entertain alternative possibilities.

Upon reflection, after returning from my travels and spending time analyzing what I heard, it became clear to me that all these themes are tied together by one underlying idea: a belief that while one belongs to America, America also belongs to each American. The Americans I met saw themselves reflected in their country: their images, and those of their ancestors who built the country, are reflected in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the American flag. America is a country of, for, and by the people. Struggling and facing innumerable personal challenges do not diminish one’s faith in the United States; in fact, in the case of the interviewees, they provide grounds for further strength and commitment to the country.


Those findings are perfectly sound but they lack psychological sophistication. The process he overlooks is that identifying with your country makes your country's characteristics yours.  Your country's successes are your successes.  "We" have done great things.  And the more the individual is having an undistinguished life, the more it is a comfort for the individual to feel that he and his fellow citizens collectively have done great things.

Humans are group animals to a significant degree so identifying with your group and feeling part of a collective is an entirely normal and natural thing to do. And that is why most people worldwide are patriotic.  The American Left are not patriotic but that is because they have anger issues.  Just listen to them talk about President Trump.  They are boiling over with anger and Trump causes it all to spill out, often in highly irrational ways. -- JR

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