In World War II, Winston Churchill famously declared that “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.” It appears that there may be even fewer to count on if a recent poll out this weekend is accurate. The Quinnipiac University poll asked Americans “what would you do if you were in the same position as Ukrainians are now, stay and fight or leave the country?” Only 55 percent said that they would stay and fight for this country. That included only 40 percent of Democrats. Overall 38 percent of Americans said that they would flee. It appears that this country is facing an existential crisis of faith and we should have a frank discussion about why so comparably few Americans are now willing to pledge their lives in defense of this country.
Quinnipiac has long been relied upon in polling in the United States and is one of the most cited polling outfits for the media.
It is important to note that, while the results were shocking overall, many did say that they would stand and defend the United States from any invader. When asked this question 68 percent of Republicans and 57 percent of Independents say that they would fight. However more than half of Democrats (52%) said they would flee before fighting for their country (Eight percent did not have an answer, a shrug that is equally alarming).
As someone who came from a liberal, Democratic family in Chicago, I was shocked by the poll. My father and grandfather fought in the World Wars and everyone I grew up with on the liberal Northside of Chicago was both intensely liberal and intensely patriotic. Indeed, I often heard my parents challenge Republican friends for suggesting that conservatives were more patriotic or more willing to sacrifice for their country.
For my maternal Sicilian family, they felt a deep bond to the country that took them in and allowed them to live in freedom. Despite the prejudice that they encountered and difficult times, my Sicilian grandparents celebrated Independence Day like a religious holiday and often discussed their pride when they became American citizens. My grandfather was a union organizer and a coal miner who developed black lung in the mines of Ohio. He could not read or write but he could proudly recite parts of the Declaration of Independence and our national anthem.
We should be alarmed by this poll because it shows a deep disconnection with this country and its protection. If you are not willing to defend this country, citizenship becomes a status of convenience; an opportunistic association that can be shed as easily as it is acquired. It is a commitment that extends little beyond annual tax obligations.
Notably, the poll did not pose a question over what might be viewed as an unjustified war in another land like Vietnam. This question asked about an invasion of our country. Indeed, despite the opposition to Vietnam, many Democrats and liberals still felt obligated to answer the call for service when drafted.
The poll shows a crisis of faith within the Democratic party, but also our country at large. People have lost faith in our common article of faith in the Constitution. That did not occur over night. There have been unrelenting attacks on our institutions and core values for years that ignore our countervailing successes. We have gone through terrible periods and faced terrible institutions and practices from slavery to segregation. However, we faced them as a people united in a common faith captured in the Declaration of Independence:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…”
We have not always lived up to those principles. Indeed, when those words were written, millions were left in slavery and millions were barred from voting, property ownership. and other basic rights of citizenship. However, we became better than we were due to a faith in ourselves and our common constitutional bound.
This is just one poll and people can have different motivations in answering such questions. However, there was clearly a desire by many to convey this disconnection with the country in their answers that suggest something more than just impish responses.
There has been a growing agnosticism regarding this country as many challenge our foundational institutions and values. It is captured in words of leaders like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who questioned the very need for the Supreme Court when it was not ruling in line with her own views: “How much does the current structure benefit us? And I don’t think it does.” That is a worthy debate to have and our Constitution protects all sides in having it. Yet, there is an underlying message that, because our institutions did not produce the results demanded by Ocasio-Cortez, we are told to scrap them.
Elie Mystal, who writes for the Nation and Above the Law, called the Constitution “kind of trash.” In his new book, “Allow Me to Retort: A Black Guy’s Guide to the Constitution,” Mystal says that we should just ignore what the Framers thought or said. When asked “if are you arguing that the Constitution needs to be scrapped altogether?” Mystal said he would be “all for” a move to “throw out” the Constitution. Others, including lawyers, agreed with Mystal and declared “the Constitution is trash.”
It is a crisis of faith shown in academics like Georgetown Professor Eddie Glaude insisting that we need to scrap what we have and be “refounded” rather than “tinker around the edges while people are dying.” He insists that, despite the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement and anti-discrimination laws, it is hopeless to expect the system to change: “At every moment when a new America seems to be about to be born, the umbilical cord of white supremacy is wrapped around the baby’s neck, choking the life out of it. ”
The curious aspect of such comments is that we are constantly being reborn as a people. Our Constitution created an experiment in self-governance that remains a work in progress. However, it does not guarantee that you simply get what you want or you can “throw out” the Constitution like Mystal’s unwanted trash.
The people of Ukraine have given the world a symbol of defiance and faith. That is a country that has been deeply divided in the past and only gained its independence in 1991. Vladimir Putin clearly counted on many opting to stand aside rather than stand up for their young nation. Instead, opposing parties and leaders stood together and united in their common identity as Ukrainians.
It appears from this poll that many of us have lost that capacity for faith and sacrifice. Many are unwilling to take that same leap of faith in our system and each other.
President John F. Kennedy, a Democrat who was decorated for his bravery in World War II, famously declared in 1961: “Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe to assure the survival and the success of liberty.” The question is whether Americans are willing to answer the same call today.