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If many consider the United States to be a Christian nation, how does this affect individuals who are American citizens but not Christian? We test two major hypotheses: (1) Americans consider Christians to be more fully American than non-Christians. We examine whether Americans explicitly and implicitly connect being Christian with being a true American; and (2) Christian Americans are more likely to be patriotic and set exclusive boundaries on the national group than non-Christian Americans. Among non-Christians, however, those who want to be fully accepted as American will be more patriotic and set more exclusive boundaries to emulate prototypical Americans than non-Christians who place less emphasis on national group membership. We test these hypotheses using data from a survey and from an Implicit Association Test. We find that Americans in general associate being Christian with being a true American. For Christians, this is true both explicitly and implicitly. For non-Christians, only the implicit measure uncovers an association. We also found that non-Christians exhibit significantly more pro-national group behaviors when they desire being prototypical than when they do not.
On February 9, 1950, Joseph McCarthy, the junior senator from Wisconsin, gave a speech to a Republican women's club in Wheeling, West Virginia. McCarthy used the speech to unveil a list of 205 individuals he alleged were communists working in the U.S. government. The major theme of the speech, though, was that the United States, a Christian nation, was under attack from godless communists:
Today we are engaged in a final, all-out battle between communistic atheism and Christianity. The modern champions of communism have selected this as the time, and ladies and gentlemen, the chips are down – they are truly down. … Can there be anyone who fails to realize that … this is the time for the show-down between the democratic Christian world and the communistic atheistic world?
The battle was a moral one between good Christian Americans and godless communist traitors who had been “born with silver spoons in their mouths” right in America. It was McCarthy's moral duty to cleanse the United States of these atheistic traitors.
McCarthy's short but potent career hunting down supposed communists in the United States government is revealing. He was a highly controversial figure during his time largely because his lists of supposed communist sympathizers were rarely backed up with any evidence, but most people agreed with his basic message if not his tactics: Communists were bad and, more important for the purposes of this research, America was a Christian nation.
When two planes crashed into the World Trade Center and one plane crashed into the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, Americans were shocked and horrified. The initial reaction was to sit in stunned silence, intently watching the news to find out what was going on. But many Americans quickly realized they needed to do something, whatever they could, to help. In Ohio, people donated blood, raised money, and bought flags “to show we're unified.” “People were hurting, hundreds of miles away. But it wasn't too far for Northeast Ohioans to do whatever they could … to help” (Albrecht 2001). In Indiana, a mother offered her child-support money, a retired nurse donated food and all of the money she had in her wallet, and local radio stations raised money at the rate of $5,000 per hour because, in the words of a local car dealer, “We're all a part of it” (Kilborn 2001). In Nebraska, young children emptied their piggy banks in an effort to help, and local supermarkets and fast-food restaurants raised thousands of dollars (McCord 2001). And in Utah, a four-year-old girl donated all of the money from her Barbie fund and was hailed as an “example of what a true American is all about” (Burr 2001). Newspapers from across the United States told similar stories in the aftermath of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Americans came together to help their fellow Americans in New York City and Washington, D.C., by doing whatever they could.
In 1986, my husband Randy and I took a trip to New Zealand. We spent a couple of days in Queenstown, located in a breathtakingly beautiful spot on the edge of Lake Wakatipu looking out at The Remarkables mountain range. The area's natural beauty has made Queenstown a popular tourist destination, so it was no surprise that upon arriving in Queenstown we saw many tourists, like ourselves, from around the world. We especially noticed a lot of Americans, including a group of Americans singing “If You're Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands” very loudly in the Skyline Restaurant atop Bobs Peak and another group of Americans emerging from a tourist bus complaining loudly that New Zealand sure wasn't like America (“And you have to ask for water in a restaurant and when they bring it, it doesn't even have ice in it, of all things!”).
Sitting in The Cow, a pizza restaurant where multiple parties were seated together at each table, we heard some Americans at the next table complain that they didn't like having to sit with strangers. Shortly thereafter, our server came to our table and engaged us in a conversation. She asked us what we had seen and done in New Zealand thus far. After a pleasant conversation, she asked if we were Canadians. Since Randy and I at the time had more pronounced Minnesota accents, this question was not far-fetched, but it raised something of a dilemma.
During the 2008 presidential election campaign, the question of whether the two major candidates were American enough to be president was raised on the campaign trail and in major media outlets. The questioning of John McCain's Americanness arose from his having been born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936. The Constitution of the United States says in Article II, Section 1, that “No person except a natural born Citizen … shall be eligible to the Office of President.” Did McCain's circumstances fit the Constitution or the various laws and interpretations that have occurred since the founding of the country? The debate over the issue never became very heated (see, e.g., Hulse 2008a, 2008b; Liptak 2008), and Americans seemed loath to question the Americanness of McCain given his war-hero image. Democrats did not pursue the issue, nor did it have much of a life in the blogosphere.
The same cannot be said of the sometimes explicit, but often implicit, questioning of Barack Obama's Americanness. Jeffrey Frederick, the Virginia GOP chair, rallied his volunteers by associating Obama with Osama bin Laden. The volunteers jumped at the bait: “‘And he won't salute the flag,’ one woman added, repeating another myth about Obama. She was quickly topped by a man who called out, ‘We don't even know where Senator Obama was really born’” (Tumulty 2008). Obama was born in Hawaii, but the “foreigner” tag sticks with him.
Why is national identity such a potent force in people's lives? And is the force positive or negative? In this thoughtful and provocative book, Elizabeth Theiss-Morse develops a social theory of national identity and uses a national survey, focus groups, and experiments to answer these important questions in the American context. Her results show that the combination of group commitment and the setting of exclusive boundaries on the national group affects how people behave toward their fellow Americans. Strong identifiers care a great deal about their national group. They want to help and to be loyal to their fellow Americans. By limiting who counts as an American, though, these strong identifiers place serious limits on who benefits from their pro-group behavior. Help and loyalty are offered only to 'true Americans,' not Americans who do not count and who are pushed to the periphery of the national group.
Americans like the American people. They generally think highly of them, even while acknowledging a few negative characteristics. According to a 2005 Pew Global Attitudes Project poll, the vast majority of Americans thought the American people were hardworking (85 percent), inventive (81 percent), and honest (63 percent). Granted, they also thought Americans were greedy (70 percent) and not religious enough (58 percent), but overall, Americans were significantly more positive about their fellow Americans than they were negative (Pew Research Center 2005). In the Democratic Processes Survey, in 1998, a majority of Americans thought the United States would be better off if Americans made the decisions, not politicians (56 percent), and that Americans could solve the country's problems if they were just given a chance (63 percent) (Hibbing and Theiss-Morse 2002: 112). And in a national random-sample survey of American citizens conducted in the spring of 2002, more Americans agreed (46 percent) with the statement, “the world would be a better place if people from other countries were more like people in the U.S.,” than disagreed (37 percent).
Liking one's fellow nationals is important, and these poll results suggest that most Americans hold a very high opinion of their compatriots. But liking the group isn't enough. For people to identify with a group, any group, they need to evaluate the group positively, but they also need to be cognitively aware that they are members of the group and they need to feel a sense of attachment to the group (Tajfel 1978).
In the months leading up to the United States' invasion of Iraq in March 2003, both antiwar protesters and prowar activists took to the streets. Antiwar protesters wanted to stop the United States from going to war and to let people at home and around the world know that there was no consensus among Americans concerning the approaching war. These antiwar protesters professed their support for the troops and their love of America, but they wanted the direction of U.S. policy changed. The Reverend Calvin Morris, a protester in Chicago, summed up the protesters' feelings well: “We love America because America is a place where when things are out of order, people can disagree and protest” (“Americans on Both Sides Take to the Streets” 2003). The prowar activists had a very different take on the protesters' motivations. Signs reading “America – Love It or Leave It” that cropped up at the counterprotests were reminiscent of the Vietnam War era. According to the prowar activists, the antiwar protesters could not love America. How could they love America when they were damaging the country? Sherri Tabb, one of the counterprotesters, associated antiwar protests with helping enemies of the United States when she said, “The anti-war protesters … are aiding and abetting Saddam” (“Thousands Rally in Support of War” 2003).
No one complains or takes offense when people give to charity or help in a crisis as a means of helping fellow group members.
Throughout the Iraq War, and even prior to its inception in March 2003, some Americans vigorously criticized the Bush administration for various aspects of the war, protesting that the reasons for starting the war were based on faulty intelligence; that the United States should have put together a strong, broad-based multinational force; that the administration had no real plan for what to do in Iraq once Saddam Hussein and his government fell. Counterprotesters and people who supported the Bush administration's foreign policy responded to these criticisms by calling the protesters “un-American” or “bad Americans” (O'Reilly 2007; “Pro-war Demonstrators Show Support for U.S. Troops” 2003; “Thousands Rally in Support of War” 2003). By implication, good Americans do not criticize, especially during times of war. If Americans do not like a policy being pursued by their government, they should remain silent or, at more of an extreme, move to another country, Canada perhaps, because they clearly aren't behaving like true Americans.
In the midst of the Iraq War, on August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc on the Mississippi Delta region of the United States. Reactions to the U.S. government's response to the widespread destruction varied widely, with some people defending the government's response and others questioning whether the government would have responded as slowly if the majority of the hurricane's victims had been wealthy and white rather than poor and black.
The data sets used throughout this book are part of the Perceptions of the American People project funded by the National Science Foundation (Grant SES-0111887). The survey was administered by the Ohio State University's Center for Survey Research. Households in the forty-eight contiguous states and the District of Columbia were randomly chosen using random-digit dialing. An English-speaking respondent within the household was randomly chosen using the “last birthday” selection technique (Lavrakas 1993). Only U.S. citizens were included in the sample. A total of 1,254 interviews were completed between May 29, 2002, and July 21, 2002. The response rates were as follows: American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) Response Rate 5, 34 percent; AAPOR Cooperation Rate 3, 39 percent; and Modified AAPOR Cooperation Rate 3, 74 percent. The average length of the interviews was 31 minutes and the data are weighted to match the sample with the population based on the 2000 U.S. Census.
The survey items and scales used as independent and dependent variables in the regression analyses in Chapters 2 through 5 were standardized to range from 0 to 1, making comparisons easier. See Gary King (1986) and Robert Luskin (1991) for a discussion of how to interpret scales using this method of standardizing variables.
Hibbing and Theiss-Morse argue that the American public dislikes Congress, as it does other parts of government, because it dislikes the processes of government. Congress, in which conflict, partisanship, and bargaining is quite visible to the public, is disliked the most. It is Congress's transparency that makes it the least-liked among the major institutions of government.
The voices of citizens matter in a democracy, but understanding what these voices are truly saying is difficult. We know that the American public holds the political system, and the institutions composing it, in astonishingly low regard. We also know that people are especially disgusted with Congress. The reason for these negative feelings is much less clear. If we are to understand what citizens are saying, however, we must determine what lies behind their antipathy. We pursue this task in the pages that follow. Our primary thesis is that dissatisfaction with the political system and especially Congress is due in no small part to public perceptions of the processes involved. As will become apparent, some aspects of these allegedly flawed governing processes are of the sort that could be improved through the adoption of certain political reforms, but other aspects are endemic to open democratic government. That the people of the United States, a country often viewed as the initiator of modern democratic government, have an aversion to democratic processes may sound absurd to many, and perhaps obvious to a few, but we ask for patience as we develop the evidence and logic behind this contention and as we append the necessary caveats and qualifications.
Is the self-esteem of individuals tied to their nation? If so, is that a good reason to strive for a world of safe, secure nations? Many liberal nationalists answer yes to these questions, but they do so without looking at the large social-psychology literature on groups and self-esteem. We examine the claims of liberal nationalists in light of this literature. The good news is that self-respectWe use the terms self-respect and self-esteem interchangeably. and group identity are strongly connected and can lead people to place collective interests above individual interests. The bad news is that the liberal-nationalist assumption that low-status groups have little self-respect and majority groups have it in abundance is mistaken. Perhaps most worrisome is the competitive nature of collective self-esteem: people feel better when their group does better than others. This competitiveness can lead to outright hostility when groups compete for resources and political power. Self-esteem is clearly an unstable foundation for a liberal nation. Although we do not think that problems caused by national identity and self-esteem can be fully solved, we do suggest ways in which they can be contained.