Back in the winter of 1980-81, I remember hearing the coach of the 1980 U.S. Olympic Men’s Hockey Team, Herb Brooks, speak in New Haven. Mr. Brooks gave a very nice andinspirational talk—no surprise there. Afterwards I had the opportunity to shake his hand, and I remember thanking him for how wonderfully he had coached his players to victory.
For those who don’t know, the U.S. victory against the Soviet hockey team, considered the best in the world at that time and a heavy favorite to win the gold medal in those Winter Olympic Games, provided an immense lift to America. We were thrilled by the game itself, a 4-3 nail biter that introduced the phrase “Do you believe in miracles?” to a worldwide television audience. It also led to a surge of patriotic fervor throughout the nation, and those Olympic chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A!” reverberated throughout the land. During the weeks and months that immediately followed that amazing hockey game, flags seem to sprout like wildflowers after a spring rain across every corner of the country. We were proud to be Americans and proud of an America that could produce such amazing and hardworking young men—ones who could work together to defeat an enemy once considered invincible.
How far away that all seems today.
We now are subjected to a daily barrage of news and commentary that denigrates American history, accomplishments, and values. We are not a nation that should be filled with pride; we are instead now a gang of bigots and oppressors. Our young men are no longer worthy of our admiration and respect because they are nothing but the products of a culture of “toxic masculinity” that routinely turns them into rapists and brutes.
The wide-eyed exuberance that greeted the victory of the U.S. Olympic Hockey Team at that time seems impossible in the cynical and castigating environment we live in today. We no longer build up heroes and hold them up as examples; we now typically tear down anyone who dares to achieve and relentlessly hold them up to shame and ridicule.
Perhaps it is the case that we were a bit more innocent 39 years ago, but I don’t think this is true. Coming after Vietnam and Watergate only a few years prior, I cannot but think that we had ample cause to be even more bitter about the faults and mistakes of our nation and its leaders at that time than we might today. Back in those days there were plenty of complaints about American policies, fears about crime, worries about a future that seemed less secure, and concerns about a loss of national purpose and resolve.
However, at that point in time we were still all “Americans”. As hard as it might be for many to believe this now, we felt somehow connected to one another because of this. As a result, we could share our pride in the accomplishments of those American Olympians in a way that it does not seem would be possible today.
Some essential connective tissue that used to bind us to one another seems to have disintegrated over the past couple of decades. Whether this is because we now are encouraged to seek our individual identities through self-interest and self-involvement that precludes a label as expansive as “American” or have simply grown suspicious of the very idea of nationhood, now associating it with xenophobia and armed aggression, I cannot definitively say. Nonetheless, this has been a stark and noticeable change during my lifetime—even to the point where conspicuous displays of the American flag are now often viewed with suspicion. This self-abnegating behavior is equated with more tolerant and welcoming attitudes by many of our sophisticated and cosmopolitan elites, but it seems odd that we now need to worry about offending someone simply because we are proud of our country.
The downside of loss of common identity is that common purpose becomes nearly impossible. Governing a nation devoid of national pride is much like herding cats—and is bound to present problems. Any effort to appeal to shared values or suggest personal sacrifice is bound to fail. Our insularity and suspicion of one another, which seems to be our most salient national characteristic at the present time, has many explanations, but I would suggest that the efforts by many to denigrate the very idea of nationhood play a big part in creating the difficulties that afflict us today.
National pride might seem stupid and pointless to some of the smart set, but I still am happy to say that I am an American. I fully realize we live in an imperfect country that has problems that need to be resolved through ongoing debate and discussion, but I still have a tremendous pride in America and will defend it against those who seem to find perverse and unseemly delight in highlighting its flaws rather than celebrating our many, many strengths.
Those who wearily and loudly announce their intention to move elsewhere because they find both America and Americans fail to meet their persnickety standards can, as far as I am concerned, just hurry up and pack their bags. You won’t be missed by many—including me. Enjoy your new life in whatever land you believe will better respond your constant whining, complaining, and negativity. I am certain they will be happy to have you around to guide them toward the nirvana you obviously could not find in the U.S.A.