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American pride reaches historic low. What do Donald Trump, Colin Kaepernick and Megan Rapinoe teach us about the state of American patriotism?

The definition of patriotism is at the heart of a recent Gallup poll showing "extreme" pride in America at an all-time low. Ahead of July Fourth, an examination of what patriotism means to different people.

SALT LAKE CITY — A Gallup poll released Tuesday ahead of July Fourth revealed that Americans’ pride in their country has, for the second year in a row, reached a historic low. The survey asked participants to rate their pride in America on a four-prong scale, with “extremely proud” at the top. That option pulled in 45% support — down two percentage points from last year.

The two-point change, the poll notes, is statistically insignificant. But its release nevertheless comes at an appropriate time. Definitions of American patriotism have dominated headlines this week, from Colin Kaepernick and Nike to U.S. soccer star Megan Rapinoe to the military-heavy Independence Day celebration planned by President Donald Trump. A different part of the Gallup poll illustrates the polarization at the core of debates about patriotism’s true meaning: The splits between Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, and young and old adults.

Only 22% of Democrats said they’re “extremely proud” to be American compared to 76% of Republicans. The split is mirrored by liberals (21%) and conservatives (70%), and to a lesser extent by adults ages 18-29 (24%) and adults ages 65 and older (63%).

As recently as 2013, the split between Democrats and Republicans was as close as 15 percentage points (71% for Republicans, 56% for liberals). The schism has grown since 2016 — especially the last two years. While Republicans’ “extreme” pride has remained steady, increasing slightly from 72% in 2017 to this year’s 76%, Democrats’ has plummeted from 43% to its current 22%.

To understand the left’s plunge, look no further than Kaepernick and Rapinoe (and Trump).

Kaepernick’s well-known decision to kneel for the national anthem while a member of the NFL’s San Francisco 49ers launched him on an activism trajectory that this week saw him making headlines once again. After Nike released images of a shoe bearing the 13-star Betsy Ross flag that it planned to release for July Fourth, Kaepernick, according to The Wall Street Journal, reached out to the company (with which he is affiliated) to express concerns.

This undated product image obtained by the Associated Press shows Nike Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July shoes that have a U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle on it, known as the Betsy Ross flag, on them. Nike is pulling the flag-themed tennis s
This undated product image obtained by the Associated Press shows Nike Air Max 1 Quick Strike Fourth of July shoes that have a U.S. flag with 13 white stars in a circle on it, known as the Betsy Ross flag, on them. Nike is pulling the flag-themed tennis shoe after former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick complained to the shoemaker, according to the Wall Street Journal. (Nike via AP Photo)
Nike Obtained by Associated Press

Kaepernick said the revolution-era flag, according to The Wall Street Journal, “is an offensive symbol because of its connection to an era of slavery.” The BBC also reported the flag was later adopted by the American Nazi Party.

Kaepernick’s concerns, echoed on social media, reflect a desire to confront America’s problematic past, just as his anthem kneeling called attention for America’s more recent societal ills, chief among them police brutality against people of color (the number of black people killed by American police has decreased slightly since 2016 according to Mapping Police Violence, but Kaepernick has pointed to particularly egregious examples of unnecessary force like Eric Garner and Tamir Rice to justify his norm defiance).

"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he told NFL Media in 2016. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

The right’s response to Kaepernick, both then and now, has been swift rebuttal.

Nike sided with Kaepernick and pulled the Betsy Ross shoes, which prompted Republican Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey to pull planned incentives for a proposed Nike plant in his state.

“Instead of celebrating American history the week of our nation’s independence, Nike has apparently decided that Betsy Ross is unworthy, and has bowed to the current onslaught of political correctness and historical revisionism,” Ducey tweeted. “It is a shameful retreat for the company. American businesses should be proud of our country’s history, not abandoning it.”

Donald Trump Jr. chimed in on Twitter, too, with a photo of a yellow-and-red pair of Nike sneakers edited to be reminiscent of the Soviet hammer and sickle.

“If the Betsy Ross Flag, the flag of the American Revolution, is too offensive for Nike to commemorate The 4th of July,” he wrote, “maybe Nike should go with this... seems to be more in line with their views.”

It appears they and many on the right view the Betsy Ross flag as a symbol of American independence and nothing else, eschewing any connotations to slavery or Nazis as irrelevant compared to the flag’s original, purest meaning.

These conflicting views of a tennis shoe illustrate one example of why the Gallup poll could be skewed the way it is. But ahead of July Fourth, do either of these stances make someone unpatriotic? A very similar question was posed to Rapinoe this week.

United States' Megan Rapinoe gestures during a training session of the US Women's Soccer team at a training ground in Lyon, France, Monday, July 1, 2019. The US will face England in a Women's World Cup semifinal match Tuesday in Lyon. (AP Photo/Laurent Ci
United States' Megan Rapinoe gestures during a training session of the US Women's Soccer team at a training ground in Lyon, France, Monday, July 1, 2019. The US will face England in a Women's World Cup semifinal match Tuesday in Lyon. (AP Photo/Laurent Cipriani)
Laurent Cipriani, AP

A standout forward for the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team who has helped the American squad reach Sunday’s World Cup Final, Rapinoe generated hundreds of headlines during the World Cup for refusing to sing or place her hand over her heart during the American national anthem. In 2016, she followed Kaepernick’s lead by kneeling in protest. U.S. Soccer soon created a rule requiring players to “stand respectfully,” but Rapinoe’s protest, even while standing, remains obvious. She explained her protests in a 2016 piece in The Players’ Tribune.

“I have chosen to kneel,” she wrote, “because I simply cannot stand for the kind of oppression this country is allowing against its own people. I have chosen to kneel because, in the words of Emma Lazarus, ‘Until we are all free, we are none of us free.’”

Rapinoe’s and the left’s grievances against America have intensified in recent days following a trip to two Texas border detention facilities by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted about guards instructing women in the facility to drink from toilets. And the trip came hours after ProPublica released an investigation that uncovered a private Facebook page where current and former Border Patrol agents “joke about migrant deaths and post sexist memes.”

But in an interview with ESPN, Rapinoe said that even though she continues to use her anthem protests to call attention to social causes, she’s as patriotic as they come.

"I think that I'm particularly and uniquely and very deeply American," Rapinoe told ESPN. "If we want to talk about the ideals that we stand for, all the songs and the anthem and sort of what we were founded on, I think I'm extremely American."

Like Kaepernick, Rapinoe believes being American and patriotic means confronting problems that, to her, bring America shame. Even at inconvenient times. Like she wrote in her The Players’ Tribune piece, “There is no perfect way to protest.

“I am the same woman who has worn the Stars and Stripes across her chest, proud and beaming,” she added. “I am one of the women you have called an American hero, and not just once. ... But I cannot stand idly by while there are people in this country who have had to deal with that kind of heartache.”

After Rapinoe said she would not go to the White House if the USWNT wins the World Cup, Trump commented on Twitter, saying “Megan should WIN before she TALKS.” He also cited the many things he thinks Americans should be proud of, like the lowest black unemployment rate in American history (a trend that started before Trump’s presidency) and the American poverty index reaching its lowest number “EVER” (the most recent assessment is from 2017, and the rate has been decreasing since 2014).

Trump’s tendency toward celebration over introspection will be on full display this July Fourth, with an exhibit of military tanks, the U.S. Navy’s famed Blue Angels and other aircraft, and of course, Trump’s presence.

“We’re going to have a great Fourth of July in Washington, D.C. It’ll be like no other,” Trump said according to Time magazine. “It’ll be special and I hope a lot of people come. And it’s going to be about this country and it’s a salute to America.”

Trump and many others believe that real patriots — especially on July Fourth — should celebrate America’s successes rather than focusing on its shortcomings or problems. Because, they figure, patriotism is about unbending respect.

These definitions of patriotism are at obvious odds, and perhaps that should be expected. Patriotism, after all, is a somewhat ambiguous term defined by Webster’s Dictionary as “love for or devotion to one’s country.”

Whether that takes the form of constant respect and celebration, even while the country faces difficulties, or spotlighting the country’s shortcomings to make it better, even during July Fourth, is left up to interpretation.