It’s not that easy to hear it yet, but the "USA, USA, USA" chants have lost a few decibels over the last few years.
While Americans celebrated their Independence Day yesterday, recent surveys show that the country is changing. The new generation (aged 18-33) is less patriotic and more distrusting of major parties. This is partly the consequence of two issues: the decline of the superpower and the hyperpolarization that is poisoning the public debate. No one should be happy about that.
The World Values Survey shows that 56 percent of Americans are proud of their country, much more so than, for example, Swedes (39 percent), Russians (28 percent), the Japanese (25 percent) or Germans (23 percent), but this pride has plummeted among young people.
American nationalism seems out of breath. The reasons aren’t the same as those behind the difficulties of the Parti Québécois. This is a complex question, and Americans are not a monolithic block. At the risk of over-simplifying, American nationalism is not first and foremost associated with a common language and the relations between two populations; rather, it assimilates into patriotism.
This patriotism first manifests in shared ideals, incarnated in the Constitution. The morality and identity of the American community both stem from the principles of this founding text, along with its vision of freedom.
American patriotism takes on another form for some: faith that this country, because of its particular fate, is devoted to positively influencing the rest of the world.
The new generation identifies much less with this patriotism. It is the most mixed generation in the history of the country (with 43 percent non-Caucasians). It also grew up with the Internet — its community and public space are thus not limited to American territory. We saw a grievous example of this in Obama’s lack of power in Syria.
The decline in patriotism is thus not problematic in itself; rather, it is the consequence of a different problem.
The political distrust of young Americans, the other significant finding in recent surveys (by the PEW Research Center and American National Election Study), is a bit more worrisome.
Young people are not necessarily disengaged. They are actually the biggest proponents of gay rights (51 percent) and of protection for undocumented immigrants (55 percent), but half of them now identify themselves as Independents rather than Democrats or Republicans. This proportion made up 30 percent in the 1990s.
The disgust toward hyper-partisanship is probably at least partly responsible, but will these young Independents force the major parties to have more common sense in order to win them over? This is far from certain because, despite the current polarization, young people are also the ones who see the least amount of difference between the two major parties. This trend can also be observed in other countries.
This looks like the start of an unraveling. We could be consoled by it by concluding that it is the emergence of citizens of the world, but the first citizen of the world was Diogenes, who was also known as the father of Cynicism.
The new generation (aged 18-33) is less patriotic and more distrusting toward major parties.