A recent poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research showed that seventy percent of Americans felt that the country was “losing its identity.” Unfortunately, what the poll also revealed was that Americans couldn’t agree on what were the important components of that “identity.”
Although there are some points of agreement among Democrats, Republicans and independents about certain aspects of what makes up the country’s identity, such as a fair judicial system and rule of law, the freedoms enshrined in the Constitution, and the ability to get good jobs and achieve the American dream, recent political developments make it clear that the consensus on these points is overshadowed by the differences.
Fifty-seven percent of Republicans thought one of the most important parts of the national identity was a Christian belief structure, as opposed to twenty nine percent of Democrats. On the other hand, sixty-five percent of Democrats thought that that the mixing of global cultures in the U.S. was important, compared to thirty-five percent of Republicans.
According to the poll, seventy-four percent of Democrats say that the ability of immigrants to come to the U.S. to escape violence and persecution is very important, as opposed to fifty-five percent of Republicans. Forty-six percent of Republicans agreed the culture of the country’s early European immigrants was very important, versus twenty-five percent of Democrats.
Putting these findings together suggests that, in general, Republicans think that the national identity should be based on an enshrined Christian faith and the Anglo-centric patriarchal culture of the first immigrants, while Democrats emphasize a more global-culture, welcoming to immigrants, and more concerned with the present than the past. Obviously, that’s an oversimplification, but there’s still a basic conflict, almost between the past and the present.
That conflict was definitely revealed in the last election, with the Republicans essentially claiming that the country was turning from its white, European, and totally Christian roots, and that such a turn was destroying and/or diminishing not only the United States, but the position of middle-class white American males.
As both the AP-NORC Poll and the Women’s March on Washington [with millions of women in hundreds of cities and towns across the country] showed this Republican “traditional” society is not endorsed by a significant percentage of the country.
Yet the Founding Fathers attempted to hold together thirteen colonies of very different belief structures, some with the [to me] abhorrent idea that slavery was morally acceptable, and they crafted a government based on shared principles that did not require a specific religious belief, or indeed, any belief in a supreme deity at all. For the time, this was an extraordinarily radical enterprise, so radical that the American Revolution equally merits the title of the Anglo-American Civil War.
So why is there so much disagreement about national identity and national priorities?
The election results and the vitriolic rhetoric from the right reflect, among other things, that there are fewer and fewer well-paid unskilled and semi-skilled jobs, and those jobs already lost to out-sourcing and technology, but mainly to technology, removed some eight million largely white men from the middle class. Those men and their families and relatives look to a past of more secure and prosperous employment and believe that the country has lost its way… and its traditional identity, and they’re angry.
On the other hand, there are over forty million African Americans in the U.S., and while the Civil War that resulted in their freedom ended over 150 years ago, those blacks still face discrimination and other barriers to rights equal to other white ethnicities. After 150 years they’re angry, and getting angrier, especially given the number of young black males killed and incarcerated, particularly when study after study shows discrimination still exists and that blacks receive harsher jail sentences for the same offense as do whites… among other things.
Educated women of all ethnicities are angry that they do not receive even close to equal pay for the same jobs as men and that the male-imposed glass ceilings in business, government, and politics still remain largely unbroken.
Since women and minorities are getting more and more vocal, and since minorities are becoming a bigger and bigger share of the American population, I foresee some very “interesting” years ahead, and I’d suggest that the largely white male Congress consider those facts very carefully.