Patriotism at the 5Cs
Patriotism has historically served as the rallying cry and a means of political justification for both the Left and the Right, but it is worth asking whether this remains an effective tool for involving educated young voters in the political process. College students at exclusive liberal arts institutions such as the Claremont Colleges are not generally considered poster children for patriotism. However, the Claremont Colleges, which host a significant number of politically conscious students, provide an appropriate microcosm of how America’s youngest voters connect with their country.
Kate Zernike of The New York Times observed in 2011 that for current college students, growing up in the shadow of 9/11 “set off a new emphasis on patriotism, with constant reminders from teachers and parents that it is important to be proud of being an American — a striking contrast to the ambivalence of the Vietnam years that marked their parents’ generation.” While some students remain devoted to these ideals, others have reacted by dissenting from political norms.
“I see [patriotism] more on a local level,” Sarah Servin (CMC ’15), President of the Democrats of the Claremont Colleges club, says of patriotism. While she defines patriotism more broadly as a pride in one’s country, Servin believes that many Americans choose to express this pride by being active in their local community.
Although she considers herself both liberal and patriotic, Servin believes the media tends to portray liberal Americans as “not patriotic and…constantly down on our country.”
“You can definitely be critical of your country and at the same time love it and be proud of how far its come,” said Servin.
Self-proclaimed patriots like Servin are not always embraced on college campuses, and she is the first to admit, “It’s not ‘cool’ to be patriotic.” While Servin’s devotion to her country is not without criticism of its policies, her behavior is nevertheless supportive of the established political system, and views like this can come off as conservative to college students who are often skeptical about the world in which they live.
Much of this disillusionment with the established American political system was expressed through the Occupy Movement last fall. Phoebe Duvall (PZ ’13) saw many of her own beliefs echoed in the movement’s demands, and participated in some of the protests until she became frustrated with their lack of organization around a clear set of ideals.
A registered Independent, Duvall leans towards the far Left, and her political philosophy stems significantly from anarchism.
“Being somewhat of an anarchist,” Duvall says, “I do not consider myself patriotic because [anarchism] entails that I want to see the collapse of nation-states, and that is completely against the normal definition of patriotism.”
Despite her anarchist leanings, Duvall continues to vote—a point of contention between her and more radical anarchists who abstain from this kind of involvement in the democratic political system.
“A lot of staunch anarchists don’t vote,” Duvall explains. “I think that that is ineffective because things are not going to change overnight.”
Although the limitations of the American two-party system frustrate her, Duvall believes, “by voting I can…help ensure that at least some pieces of my views are represented…inside the current system.”
To the right of Duvall lies Aidan Fahnestoct (CMC ’14), the Vice President for Operation of the Claremont College Republicans club. Fahnestock’s ideas of patriotism are much more in line with Servin’s, emphasizing, “a love for the values that separate the United States from the rest of the world as a nation that values civil liberties [and] freedom.”
A time that he best felt this expressed was the night he found out Osama Bin Laden had been killed.
“It gave me kind of a tangible thing to relate to in regards to patriotism,” says Fahnestoct. “Up until then patriotism had always been something I’d felt…but now I had something very specific to be patriotic about.”
When evaluating the candidates in the Republican primary race, Fahnestock never questioned their patriotism.
“[In politics] if you didn’t have a strong commitment to the United States and her values…you wouldn’t get that far,” Fahnestock believes. “The vast majority of our political leaders…are very patriotic men and women, [and] despite our political differences, that’s the one thing that can draw us together.”
Although the American political system represents very different ideals for Servin, Duvall, and Fahnestock, they all value the right to dissent. With radically different political views, these three students, like many other Claremont college students, will come together in the 2012 presidential election to cast their votes and determine the future of American politics.