This story was reported by Matthew Chayes, Lisa L. Colangelo and Jean-Paul Salamanca. It was written by Chayes.
Destiny Ellis of Freeport said she usually celebrates the Fourth of July but isn’t feeling as “festive” this year.
The U.S. Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe v. Wade. Inflation. Fears of recession.
“I’m not feeling like America is the land of the free this year,” said Ellis, 30, who works for an inventory company.
For Kerri Dobbeck, 40, of Shirley, the July 4 holiday patriotism endures, and she looks forward to celebrating, politics notwithstanding.
“We need to appreciate the country that we live in and celebrate it. Without our forefathers, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” said Dobbeck, who plans to attend a barbecue with friends in Westhampton Beach as the country celebrates the 246th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
“I’m very proud to be an American, and I believe in voting and being informed so we can make it better for our children. So I’ll be celebrating red, white and blue.”
More than a dozen interviews with Long Islanders about patriotism and Independence Day — along with national surveys measuring patriotic spirit — paint a complicated picture of how Americans view their country on this most American of holidays.
A record-low 38% of those surveyed nationwide are “extremely” proud to be American, according to a Gallup Poll released Wednesday. Republicans are at a new low for extreme pride at 58%, as are independents at 34%, while Democrats are near a new low at 26%, based on the poll, which has been taken since 2001.
But another poll, by the Archbridge Institute, asks the question simply as a yes or no and shows that the overwhelming majority of U.S. adults — 76% — are proud to be American, a finding across nearly all demographic groups.
And there’s been no significant change over more than a decade in the number of Americans who plan to attend July Fourth parades, barbecues and fireworks celebrations, or even those who don't plan to celebrate, according to an annual poll by the National Retail Federation.
While patriotism may be lower than it’s been in generations, the rise and decline is cyclical, according to Bill Galston, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on American political institutions.
He pointed to the run-up to the Civil War in the 1850s, periods of financial and agricultural crises of the 1880s and 1890s, and Vietnam and Watergate in the 1970s as examples of past times when some called patriotism into question.
“At the age of 76, I’ve seen a number of these what might be called patriotism cycles,” Galston said. He added: “This is not the first time that a bad patch in American history has led to a decline in what might be called patriotic confidence.”
Still, he said, “the patriotism numbers are quite high by international standards. There aren’t a whole lot of Americans who want to pull up stakes and move elsewhere, and relatively few do … So I would say there is still a foundation of patriotism in the United States, on which future leaders can build and which they have reasonable hopes of reviving.”
Andrew Langus of Westbury said the various issues troubling him and other Americans do not change his view of the July Fourth holiday.
“It's still the best country in the world to live in,” said Langus, a financial planner. “And we just are a divided country right now. And a lot of people have to start, I guess, thinking about coming together again.”
For some, the foundation Galston mentioned was shaken by recent policy developments — such as the Roe reversal — and the political climate generally across the political spectrum.
“Why are we celebrating a Fourth of July independence when they’re taking our rights away from not only myself but also women as a whole in America? Now we’re celebrating independence, but it doesn’t really feel like we’re free,” said Corey Williams, 22, of Shirley.
Steven B. Smith — a political-science professor at Yale who wrote “Reclaiming Patriotism in an Age of Extremes,” published last year — said that patriotism at its best has been a commitment to certain shared ideals, even if the country has sometimes failed to live up to them.
“Patriotism is our common aspiration to live up to the principles of freedom and equality embedded in our founding documents,” such as the Declaration of Independence, Smith said.
By contrast with patriotism in other countries, “What made ours different is that we have aspirations not only to what we are but to what we think we ought to be, and it’s that tension between what we are and what we ought to be that is the motor force of the American patriotic spirit.”
Joshua Hoffman, a software engineer who lives in Port Washington, said he looks at July Fourth as a time to reflect on those ideals.
“I am upset about things that are happening in the country the last several years, but I’m trying to think more about the ideals of it,” he said. “I can still have hopes that our country can live up to its aspirations.”
Michael Galgano, an American history professor who lives in Farmingdale, said he remains confident that the United States will emerge from these divided times.
“Even though things are bad, this country has always weathered plenty of controversies before,” he said. “And I prefer to remain an optimist that we will surmount all these problems.”
Clay Routledge, vice president of research and director of the Human Flourishing Lab at the Archbridge Institute, said that while most people in the country are proud to be American, there is nevertheless a decline in patriotism on each side of the political spectrum.
“The trend lines are going down for both groups, and I personally think that it has to do with the antagonistic relationship in politics right now,” along with loss of faith in institutions.
Jaida Di Giamo, 19, of Rocky Point, said she’ll be with family and maybe go to the beach for July Fourth.
Di Giamo says she and her family — which she described as being “more on the conservative side” — have different political views from her, and that makes it hard sometimes to discuss politics, particularly on holidays.
“Which is fine,” she said, “that’s what they believe in. We always try to separate ourselves from politics because it’s not something that we always want to involve ourselves in together since we don’t always agree. I think it’s disappointing to have such different views from people that I care so much about, but we don’t let it affect our relationship.”
Susan Graham of East Quogue, who described herself as "still a true American,” said: “I’d like to see more harmony, where parties can move together, because right now it is so far to the left and so far to the right that it’s almost impossible to work to any change in the country.”
Down by the Peconic Riverfront on Main Street, Luis Miguel Rodriguez, 31, of Riverhead, says he’s troubled by recent gun violence — he wants to see stricter gun laws — and is broadly concerned about political divisions and how those differences will manifest.
“With everything that is happening,” he said, “if it keeps going that way, each person will start picking a side, and there is going to be a lot more division.”
Cynthia Black of Water Mill was walking her dog on Main Street in Southampton and wondered how each side of the political spectrum could find unity.
“I think they’re very far apart right now. I don’t know where the common ground is, or whether they will ever meet on common ground," Black said.
Her teenage daughter was on the walk with her. "There are a lot of things about the country that we treasure and we enjoy," Black said, "and hopefully, people can come to a better place and agree on some good things for the next generation.”
Galgano, the history professor, holds out hope.
“This country is very resilient, and so are its people,” he said. “They just have to have faith in themselves.”