America’s ‘Identity Crisis’

The Bradley Project on America‘s National Identity issued a report which contends that America’s national identity is being weakened by the spread of multiculturalism and globalization. The Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation established this project in 2007. The vast majority of the 2,421 respondents in a Harris Interactive National Survey commissioned by the Bradley Project expressed concern that American society is increasingly polarized and divided—and that knowledge of the nation’s common heritage and ideals is eroding. The results are disturing and point to a growing problem that requires attention.

The study reveals that 84 percent maintain that there is a unique American national identity. This consists of viewing American identity as based on a set of ideas and on a way of life—rather than founded on ethnicity. Those surveyed define American national identity as a commitment to freedom: This includes free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of opportunity and political freedom. The American ethos contains the following traits: competition, individualism, optimism, self-reliance, religious faith and patriotism. The majority of respondents view America as a unique democracy; the nation upholds the rule of law and a has a formidable Constitution.

Yet 63 percent maintain that American national identity is growing weaker; 24 percent state that Americans are already so divided we can no longer sustain a common identity. Most alarming is the result among younger respondents: Those below age 35 are more likely to declare that there is no national identity. This points to a failure by the current generation of adults to transmit the nation’s heritage to the youth.

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The Bradley Project on American National Identity seeks to “initiate a conversation” on America’s “identity crisis.” The study reveals that the overwhelming majority share a fear that America is being balkanized; 80 percent of whites, 86 percent of blacks and 74 percent of Hispanics are concerned that America is increasingly divided along ethnic and cultural lines. Americans can therefore begin to demand changes in their communities based on the evidence available. For example, 89 percent state that new immigrants must be Americanized – which means they must learn English and embrace American culture. Also, the majority of parents insist that they would be upset if their children were taught in school that America is “fundamentally a racist country.” The majority of participants also agree that citizenship rather than ethnicity should be the focus of education.

The advocates for this national conversation insist that their aim is to redress the balance: They are not demanding the creation of a uniform America, but an America in which both diversity and unity are in harmony. They declare that the pendulum has swung too far toward a devaluation of all that is good in America; there is instead a constant harping on America’s flaws. They also state that there is too much emphasis on our differences rather than on areas of common ground.

The study recommends that American history be taught in elementary schools and colleges; this includes teaching primary documents and a celebration of American heroes. The authors of the report are calling for the end to the celebration of the generic Presidents Day and the restoration of the birthdays of Washington and Lincoln as national holidays. They also insist that newcomers must be taught American values, that we should provide civic education based on explaining the principles of American democracy (not “global citizenship”) and that we should institute a Presidential Award for American Citizenship to students and new immigrants. (We add English literacy to the list.)

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